A Food allergy is an immunological reaction to food proteins whereas a Food intolerance is a pharmacological reaction (like the side effects of a drug) to the chemicals in foods.
Allergy: hayfever, eczema or asthma
Intolerance: migraine, irritable bowel symptoms, behaviour problems
Who is affected?
Food Allergy Symptoms are most likely to affect babies and young children because of their underdeveloped immune system.
Intolerances. Children are vulnerable because dose for weight they consume a higher dose of food chemicals than adults. Women of child-bearing age are vulnerable because of hormonal influence. Senior citizens are vulnerable because ageing livers and kidneys are slower to excrete chemicals from the body. Exposure to toxic chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs or illness such as gastrointestinal infection can trigger food intolerance.
Food allergies symptoms (not airborne allergies such as pollens) are considered to be relatively rare - affecting up to 8% of babies under 12 months, 3% of children under five, and less than 1% of adults.
Food intolerance is much more common, affecting babies (through breastmilk), children and adults. Some experts suggest 10% are affected, although, in theory, everyone will react if the dose is high enough, so you would expect more people to be affected as levels of additives rise.
People with food allergies symptoms typically react to one or two foods. Allergy is produced by a combination of susceptibility and exposure so allergens vary. In Japan, buckwheat, and in the Mediterranean countries, lentils are common allergens. In Australia the most common foods are milk, soy, egg, peanut and fish. Allergies to the last two are more likely to last throughout life.
With food intolerance, food chemicals such as 50 additives and some natural food chemicals are involved, see brochure. These can be in many different foods. For example, asthmatics are most likely to be affected by sulphite preservatives (220-228) in a wide range of foods and drugs including fruit flavoured cordials and drinks, wine, bread, sausages and dried fruit and some medications.
Allergic reactions are quick. They usually occur within 30 minutes and are often easy to identify.
Food intolerance reactions can be delayed up to 48 hours or more. Identification of reactions can be difficult. When problem foods are consumed frequently, symptoms can appear to be a chronic condition rather than a food reaction.
Allergic reactions can be to the tiniest amount of an allergen.
Intolerance reactions to food chemicals are dose-related. Some people are more sensitive than others. In theory, everyone will react to food additives if they consume enough and one study on MSG confirmed this, although a few of the subjects reacted to very high doses which were unlikely to be consumed in one sitting.
Reference: Clarke L, McQueen J, et al. (1996). "The dietary management of food allergy and food intolerance in children and adults." Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics 53(3): 89-94.www.fedupwithfoodadditives.infoThe information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. Last update August 2005.
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