The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Getting By


November 6, 2019

Food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities… there a difference?

These terms are often confused to mean the same thing. It comes down to the immune system versus digestive system. Food allergies are a reaction by the immune system and can be as severe as life threatening. Food intolerances and sensitivities take place in the digestive system and are typically accompanied with discomfort which may cause interruptions in daily life making them very annoying and frustrating but also may lead to medical issues.

With food allergies, the immune system reacts to a harmful substance, usually a protein, in the food. Doing its job, the immune system kicks in to fight the harmful substance by making antibodies. The antibodies cause cells to release chemicals causing the allergic reaction. Each antibody has a specific “radar” for each type of allergen which is how an allergy test can determine what you are allergic to. Just a touch, inhale or microscopic amount consumed could cause someone to experience anaphylaxis symptoms of difficult breathing, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Without the immediate treatment of epinephrine (adrenalin) and medical attention, this reaction could be fatal. Regarding food safety, cross-contamination is a huge risk for those who have food allergies. It is critical to keep this in mind if you are preparing and serving food for others.

A food intolerance occurs when your digestive system is not able to breakdown the food. The digestive system may be deficient in a particular enzyme or may be sensitive to food additives or naturally occurring chemicals in foods. A person may be able to eat small amounts without having a reaction but if they consume too much, the body reacts.

Food sensitivity is not defined medically. It is more of a term used in place of intolerance or as a general term incorporating both food intolerances and food allergies.

If you are experience symptoms related to food intolerances, discuss with your healthcare provider. Although blood tests are available, there is not enough research-based evidence to support the use of these tests in diagnosing adverse reactions to foods (food intolerances). Relying on these tests to make dietary changes may be causing individuals to unnecessarily avoid healthy foods or, worse, choose foods that are harmful. Consulting with a medical professional, possibly even a registered dietician, may help you identify what foods you are reacting to and develop a new dietary plan.

The above information was compiled from, and If you are interested in learning more, contact Janell at the Chouteau County Extension Office at 622-3036, or in the green building next to the Chouteau County Courthouse at 1308 Franklin St in Fort Benton.

Follow us on Facebook @ChouteauCountyExtension to keep up to date on what is happening in Chouteau County Extension and 4-H.

Montana State University, US Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.


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