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Food Allergy and Food Intolerance - What's the difference? Part l

For most people, eating is a pleasant experience. There are some, however, who are compelled to treat certain foods as "enemies". Having allergies means to have a severe allergic response, called anaphylaxis, a very dangerous condition. Thankfully, most food allergies are not serious.

In recent years, there has been a rise in reported food allergies and intolerances. Some studies, however, suggest that only a small portion of those who think they have a food allergy have been definitely diagnosed.

 What is Food Allergy?

"Food allergy has no universally accepted definition" according to a group of scientists led by Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen in their report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. However, is understood that an allergic reaction is triggered by the immune system. Here's how: an allergic reaction is typically a response to a protein in the food. The immune system erroneously identifies that protein as harmful.

When a particular protein enters the body, the immune system may create a type of antibody called IgE to neutralize the perceived invader. When the food allergen is again ingested, the antibodies that were created earlier can trigger a release of chemicals, including histamine.

Under normal circumstances the histamine plays a beneficial role in the immune system, but for reasons not yet understood, the presence of the IgE antibodies and the subsequent release of chemicals including the histamine provoke an allergic reaction in people who happen to be hypersensitive to a particular food protein. This explain why you could eat a new food without problem and the next time you eat the same food again, you may experience an allergic reaction.

woman not sure of what she is eating

What is Food Intolerance?

 A food intolerance, like a food allergy, may be an adverse reaction to a food item. But unlike an adverse reaction to a food allergy (which is triggered directly by the immune system), a food intolerance is a reaction of the digestive system, and thus no antibodies are involved.

Basically, a person may have troubles breaking down a food, perhaps because of enzyme deficiencies or because of chemicals found in the food that are difficult to process. For example, a lactose intolerance occur when the gut does not produce the needed enzymes to digest the type of sugars found in the milk products.

As it is not a matter of the production of antibodies, a food intolerance can manifest itself the first time the food is ingested. But here's the thing: Quantity may be a determined factor - a small amount of a certain food may be tolerated, but a problem may occur when a larger amounts are ingested, and its different from food allergies as even just the tiniest amount of food can provoke a severe allergic reaction that could be life-threatening.

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