Food Intolerance: How to Recognize, Treat, and Differentiate from Allergies

Food intolerance is an organic reaction to common products that differs from manifestations of food allergies. It is important to clearly distinguish these conditions in order to initiate the correct diagnosis and treatment. Let’s explore the main differences and approaches to managing food intolerance.


Differences from Allergies


Most unwanted reactions to products are often associated with food allergies, but it is worth noting that true allergic reactions, involving the activation of IgE, are relatively rare occurrences. Allergies to food are only detected in a small percentage of children and adults.

Food allergy and food intolerance differ in several key characteristics:

  • Impact on the immune system:

Food allergy: Involves the immune system, triggering the production of IgE.

Food intolerance: Does not activate the immune system; IgE is not produced.


  • Dependence on the quantity of irritant:

Food allergy: Reaction occurs even with a microscopic dose of allergen.

Food intolerance: Depends on the quantity of the irritant; the reaction intensifies with an increase in quantity.


  • Time of manifestation of the reaction:

Food allergy: Manifests instantly, in the first minutes after contact with the allergen.

Food intolerance: Develops not instantly, but after several hours or days after consuming the food.


  • Nature of manifestations:

Food allergy: Often occurs with specific products such as peanuts, eggs, fish, milk, accompanied by skin rash, itching, swelling, and shortness of breath.

Food intolerance: Manifests with digestive tract disorders such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.


  • Life-threatening risk:

Food allergy: Can cause anaphylactic shock, posing a threat to life.

Food intolerance: Does not pose an immediate life-threatening risk.


Clearly, differences in the mechanisms and manifestations of these conditions are crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment strategies.


Causes and Mechanisms of Development of Food Intolerance


Although the mechanisms of food intolerance development have not been fully explored, there is an understanding that structures similar to those involved in allergic processes play a role. Among these structures, mast cells, basophils, and various mediators such as histamine, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and others can be highlighted.

Several factors contribute to the development of food intolerance:

  1. Excess of products rich in mediators:

Products containing an increased amount of mediators, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, eggs, chocolate, fish, can contribute to the development of food intolerance. Their excess can stimulate inadequate reactions of the body.

  1. Gastrointestinal diseases:

Some gastrointestinal diseases can cause disturbances in the absorption of substances and lead to excessive absorption of mediators. This can create conditions for the development of food intolerance.

  1. Deficiency of digestive enzymes:

The deficiency of certain digestive enzymes, such as lactase, can affect the normal digestion of certain food components. For example, lactase deficiency can cause lactose intolerance, leading to unwanted reactions when consuming dairy products.

Symptoms and Diagnosis


Unlike allergies, food intolerance primarily focuses its impact on the digestive tract. The symptoms of this condition include several negative manifestations, among which are:

Nausea: a feeling of discomfort accompanied by the desire to vomit after consuming certain products.

Vomiting: expulsion of stomach contents outward, resulting from undesirable reactions to food.

Abdominal bloating: an increase in abdominal volume due to the accumulation of gases or other undesirable processes in the digestive tract.

Diarrhea: loose and frequent stools, which may be caused by intolerance to certain food components.

These symptoms do not occur instantly, as in the case of allergies, but appear after several hours or even a day after consuming products that trigger an undesirable reaction.


The diagnosis of food intolerance includes:


  1. Keeping a food diary: systematically recording consumed products and resulting reactions. This method helps identify the relationship between food and symptoms.
  2. Blood test for IgG4 antibodies: determining the level of IgG4 antibodies, which, although not causing typical allergic reactions, can accumulate in the body and serve as a marker of food intolerance. This analysis provides information about possible allergic aspects and can help identify the causes of undesirable reactions to specific products.


Treatment and Recommendations


The main method of therapy for food intolerance is an elimination diet, which involves completely excluding from the diet products that cause undesirable reactions. This approach aims to prevent the body from coming into contact with irritants and reduce the manifestations of intolerance. Below are detailed key aspects of treatment and accompanying recommendations:

  1. Elimination Diet:

Patients should avoid consuming products to which they have undesirable reactions. It is recommended to follow the diet for at least 3 months, allowing the body to recover and reduce sensitivity to irritants. In cases of severe manifestations, the duration of the diet may be extended to a year.

  1. Physician Consultation:

It is important to emphasize that self-treatment may be ineffective and even harmful. If any symptoms or doubts about the diagnosis arise, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Only professional consultation can help determine the exact causes of undesirable reactions, develop an effective treatment plan, and adapt the diet to the patient’s individual needs.

  1. Gradual Introduction of Products:

After completing the elimination diet, the gradual reintroduction of excluded products into the diet is possible. However, this should be done cautiously, starting with small portions. It is important to closely monitor the body’s reaction to each reintroduced product.

  1. Monitoring of Condition:

Patients are recommended to keep a food diary to track the correlation between the consumption of products and the manifestation of symptoms. This provides valuable information necessary for adjusting the diet and identifying factors contributing to intolerance.

  1. Individual Approach:

Taking into account the individual characteristics of each patient, the doctor may suggest additional treatment methods, such as the use of enzyme preparations or prebiotics aimed at maintaining the health of the digestive system.

Food intolerance is a serious condition that requires attention and the right approach. Early diagnosis, competent treatment, and adherence to the doctor’s recommendations will help prevent possible complications. It is important to remember that each body is unique, and effective treatment methods may vary. In case of suspicion of food intolerance, it is crucial to consult a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and the development of a personalized treatment plan.

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