Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

From day to day a lot of people ask me the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. I find that many people regularly confuse the one for the other. That’s easy to understand, since the lines between the two are a little blurred. Let’s start by looking at what sets them apart:

True allergies are characterized by severe reactions such as body-wide hives; burning rash; severe itching; severe gastrointestinal distress, possibly including nearly instant diarrhea upon exposure; vomiting; difficulty breathing; swelling of the face and neck; or even anaphylactic shock. Reactions like these are what people think of when they talk about peanut or bee-sting allergies. A true allergy tends to be a severe, dangerous reaction that needs to be managed carefully by a skilled healthcare professional.

A food sensitivity on the other hand, while less severe, is no less real. Many people with food sensitivities mistakenly believe that they have a food allergy because specific foods cause them great discomfort. Such symptoms as general gastrointestinal distress; bloating; mild diarrhea; light itching; headaches; nausea without vomiting, etc… are common with food sensitivities. While not dangerous, they can be greatly discomforting.

While some might argue that the difference is just a matter of degrees, the real distinction lies in the origin of the issues.  Allergies tend to be genetic in origin, and the medical communities have yet to identify a cure. Sensitivities on the other hand, are often caused by specific nutrient deficiencies that prevent the body from properly metabolizing a given food, causing the body to reject it as foreign material instead. In many cases, a skilled nutritionist or dietitian can help a person identify the deficiencies in their diet that may be contributing to the problem. By filling the deficiency, relief from the symptoms associated with the sensitivity can often be obtained.

Author: Dr. Chris Knutson, ND

Dr. Chris Knutson, ND, entered the natural health field after being cured of chronic Lyme Disease by an Australian Naturopath. He holds degrees as a Doctor of Naturopathy, Master Herbalist and Certified Nutritional Counselor. He currently works as a Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator with Fresh and Natural Foods.