It’s all so confusing! Is it an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity?


Our bodies don’t always like the foods we eat and beverages we drink. I’m sure this is no surprise. What can be confusing, though, are the different types of reactions to food and beverages that our body can produce. Understanding the differences can help figure out what is going on. However, even understanding the differences and labels for those responses can be confusing. There isn’t a standard definition of allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity that is agreed upon in the medical community. The definitions I use below are the ones I use with my clients.

The first type of reaction is a true allergy. With a true food allergy, there is an anaphylactic response. This means the person gets an itchy mouth, closing of the esophagus, swelling of the tongue, etc. These require an immediate response, usually with an EpiPen and a trip to the hospital.

Next, are food intolerances. These are when someone is intolerant to a food it is less serious and typically involves digestive issues. For example, lactose intolerance is a food intolerance. You are missing the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down lactose. Irritable bowel syndrome may be a cause of food intolerances. Stress and psychological can come into play – the thought of food can make you sick.

Food sensitivities are when your immune system releases mediators. There are about 100 different mediators that your immune cells can release in response to a food. Mediators can cause inflammation, edema (water retention), mucus secretion, and pain receptor activation among other symptoms. When you eat a food and your immune system responds by releasing mediators you feel a symptom from that food that may not necessarily seem to be related to the food. Some mediators are linked to migraines. Others to IBS. Others seem to be associated with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

There is no “gold standard” for food sensitivity testing. That’s another reason that is confusing. However, that doesn’t mean that food sensitivity testing shouldn’t be a tool you can use to figure out what is causing your problems.

Have you been tested for food sensitivities? If so, post your experience below. I’d be interested in hearing about it. If you’re interested in food sensitivity testing or seeing if it is right for you, you can contact me here.

Got aches? Pains? Migraines? Have you asked, “Could it be food?”

Tired woman

Are you tired of hearing, “You’re not as young as you used to be. You’ve got to expect to not feel as good as you did when you were younger.” Maybe you’ve got some aches and pains you haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe you’ve developed migraines. Maybe your having stomach issues. Have you ever wondered if these things could be connected to the food you eat?

Your body is a mass of chemical reactions going on all the time. All of the systems – cardiovascular, muscular, digestive, etc. – are all related. No one system functions without affecting the others. And, the food we eat comes into play in a lot of ways.

You may have heard that somewhere between 70-80% of your immune system resides in your digestive tract. When I first heard this, I thought it couldn’t be true. As I started learning more, I found out it is true. And, it actually makes sense.

Like our skin, our digestive tract is constantly in contact with the outside world. We are putting things from the environment (things that are not of our body, if you will) inside our body to get nutrition from it. As the food, drink and supplements pass through our digestive tract, your body has to be sure that things that you don’t need, or may harm you, don’t get into your body. Your digestive tract does this by having a highly acidic environment in your stomach (unless you are taking medications to reduce your stomach acid) and by having a lot of immune cells in your small intestine.

These immune cells in your small intestine act like bouncers by keeping your body from absorbing things that it shouldn’t and fighting off things that could harm you. Sometimes when your immune cells encounter things they need to fight off, they release mediators. These mediators can then cause the symptoms you feel – aches, pains, migraines, etc. And, tracking down the underlying cause of these symptoms can be difficult because most doctors and internet searches won’t look at food. But, maybe it is the food. . . .

Next week, I’ll cover how to figure out if it is the food.

If you want to talk about if what you’re feeling could be related to food, just click here and get in touch. I’d be happy to talk it through with you.