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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karly McMaster, ND

Are you lactose intolerant?

Do you know the difference between a food INTOLERANCE and a SENSITIVITY or ALLERGY? Many people tell me they have been avoiding milk products because it makes them have X, Y, or Z symptoms but are often confused on the terminology of what their reaction could be. Food intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy shouldn't be used interchangeably. Keep reading to learn why!

Somebody at the grocery store selecting a bottle of milk from the fridge shelves.

Food Intolerance

A food intolerance is the inability to adequately digest the SUGAR component in a food, due to an enzyme deficiency. This often leads to symptoms of gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea, and symptoms usually present within 6 hours of consuming the food. This reaction is not immune-mediated, however the symptoms can overlap with food sensitivity symptoms.

Food Allergy

A food allergy is an immune-mediated response, often immediate, where the body overreacts to a certain food PROTEIN and produces IgE antibodies that target the food as a "foreign invader" and the body releases histamine. This reaction causes symptoms of hives, sneezing, wheezing, and/or anaphylaxis. This type of reaction is typically life-long.

Food Sensitivity

A food sensitivity is an immune-mediated response, often delayed, where the body produces IgG antibody complexes to the food PROTEIN that can build up over time and deposit into tissues creating inflammation. This type of reaction can occur within hours to days after consuming a food and lead to symptoms of "IBS", headaches/migraines, eczema, joint pain, nasal congestion, fatigue, etc. Often an elimination of these foods is necessary for a period of time, but with treatment, you should be able to reintroduce the food eventually and have no issues.

So why is this important??

It's important to know the type of reaction that's happening in your body so it's treated properly. My primary goal for all patients is to include the most variety in your meals as possible. Too often, I have patients come in saying that they have been told they have a food sensitivity, which is often interpreted as an allergy, and they have been avoiding that food for 5+ years. Similarly, many people assume that when they have a reaction to milk products, that it has to be a lactose intolerance. Determining the root cause of what's going on, leads to the correct treatment, and most of the time these foods can be reintroduced after adequate treatment. If you've been avoiding a food for years and it's not due to an allergy (or celiac disease), let's get to the root cause of what's going on!

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