Allergy or Intolerance?

What is the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?

There is a lot of confusion about the terms food intolerance and food allergy, and the differences between them. Many people speak about food allergy when their symptoms can sometimes indicate food intolerance instead.

According to the leading medical charity Allergy UK, as many as 45%* of the population suffer from food intolerance which, whilst not life threatening can make all aspects of life very uncomfortable for sufferers.

Food allergy is different from food intolerance in that it is a rapid response by the body's immune system to a particular food. In this type of reaction, the body's immune system mistakes a food for an 'invader' often resulting in a rapid allergic reaction within minutes. This type of allergic reaction is commonly associated with nut and seafood allergies.

The causes

What causes most food intolerances and food allergies?

People react differently to different foods. There is no one definitive test because food hypersensitivity takes on different forms such as:

  • Classical immediate reactions to foods known as food allergy which is mediated by IgE antibodies.
  • Coeliac disease which is a reaction to the gluten protein and is detected by measuring anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA) and anti-endomysial (EMA) antibodies.
  • Delayed onset food intolerance.
  • Enzyme deficiencies such as lactose intolerance.
  • Chemical sensitivities such as reactions to food additives e.g tartrazine(E102) and sunset yellow (E110) or other chemicals in foods.
  • Reaction to histamine in foods.

YorkTest Programmes

The NHS acknowledges food intolerance and recommends food diaries and elimination diets as the preferred method of treatment. Those that have chronic symptoms and are concerned that food may be a contributory factor can sometimes get involved in taking lengthy blind elimination diets which can be limited by the fact that they require a high level of compliance. Furthermore, it is virtually impossible to test all the different combinations of food types that may be contributing to the problems.

YorkTest Laboratories is Europe's leading provider of testing for IgG antibody reactions to foods and drinks; tests which are offered with nutritional support. YorkTest have over 30 years experience in the field.

Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to some sort of food ingredient that occurs every time the food is eaten, but particulaly if larger quantities are consumed.

Working alongside trained Nutritional Therapists, YorkTest have developed programmes to support people as they manage their symptoms of food intolerance . YorkTest Nutritional Therapists have chosen to use the YorkTest food-specific IgG antibody test as a strategy for the elimination diets that they recommend. The presence of food specific IgG antibodies indicates that the body has shown a reaction to a particular food(s). Many people have circulating levels of IgG antibodies to foods in their blood, but, in order to support their strategy for dietary elimination, YorkTest and their Nutritional Therapists have defined the cut-off used to determine whether food-specific IgG antibodies are detected or not as 10 AU (arbitrary units) per millilitre (AU/mL) of blood, with a "borderline" result being defined as 6-10 AU/mL.

The YorkTest First Step, FoodScan and Food&DrinkScan tests measure food-specific IgG antibodies. The tests are CE marked and meet the requirements of the European in Vitro Diagnostics Directive 98/79/EC.

The YorkTest FoodScan and Food&DrinkScan programmes include comprehensive aftercare support through professionally qualified Nutritional Therapists to help manage dietary changes. Some individuals have detectable levels of raised food-specific IgG antibody levels without showing symptoms and so for this reason we recommend that only those with symptoms embark on the programme. Measuring food-specific IgG antibodies to foods is used by YorkTest Nutritional Therapists as a strategy for food elimination diet; it does not provide information about Coeliac disease, enzyme deficiencies such as lactose intolerance, IgE-mediated allergies, histamine sensitivity or other chemical sensitivities.

To find out more about the FoodScan and Food&DrinkScan programmes click here.

* Allergy UK Report (2007)," Stolen Lives 3, The Food Allergy and Food Intolerance Report".