Allergy vs. Intolerance: How Is Your Food Affecting You?

Posted On Thursday, 16 May 2019
Allergy vs. Intolerance: How Is Your Food Affecting You?

Since the cost of healthcare is one of the greatest concerns for Americans, more and more people are seeking information about their health from online resources.

This can be a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it allows people to get information for free, however, depending on the source and credibility of that information, consumers may be at risk for making the wrong conclusions. Let’s not forget how many friends and family think they are Google MDs.

While it seems like the number of people who believe they have food allergies has increased, the reality is quite different. A study published this year in JAMA Network Open, found that half of the participants did not actually have a food allergy, but believed they did. Currently in the western population, 3-5% have a food allergy, whereas more people are actually dealing with food intolerance: 10-30% have lactose intolerance, and 2-5% have histamine intolerance. The study concluded that adults seek counseling and testing with any suspected food allergy to avoid reduced quality of life caused by fears of food.

The difference between food allergies and intolerances are that food allergies involve an immune system reaction to a particular food, such as peanuts, eggs or milk. These reactions can be serious and even life threatening. Symptoms can be mild to severe and develop at any time, whereas, food intolerances originate in the digestive system.

Histamine intolerance or DAO deficiency, is the lesser known of the food intolerances. DAO, or diamine oxidase, is one of the major enzyme deficiencies alongside the more familiar lactase deficiency that causes lactose intolerance. Enzymes are normally produced in the body to aid in the absorption of particular molecules. Reasons why enzyme production may be reduced include aging, medication use, and during menstrual cycles, which can cause impairment with the digestion of nutrients.

Histamine occurs naturally in many foods that are good for you, such as, tomatoes, bananas, avocados, eggplant, cheese, nuts, chocolate and fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut. These trigger foods can cause an immediate reaction of flushing, hives, headache, watery eyes, or even digestive issues like gas, bloating and diarrhea, if your body is deficient in the DAO enzyme and cannot breakdown the histamine.

Beer, wine and certain liquors also contain histamine and can trigger a reaction and cause the release of even more histamine in the gut. Some people who react to wine often confuse histamine intolerance with being sensitive to sulfites. However, while sulfites can stimulate histamine release, there is no conclusive evidence that they are directly responsible for wine-related reactions. The more likely scenario is that those who react to wine are reacting to histamine.

The good news is that just as someone can take a lactase enzyme to aid in the digestion of lactose, a DAO enzyme can also be taken to neutralize histamine. Supplemental enzymes, like lactase and DAO, can help people enjoy the foods they love without fear of unwanted reactions. One of the most inexpensive ways to test if you have a histamine intolerance is to take a DAO supplement like, Umbrellux DAO 15-30 minutes before eating or drinking anything high in histamine. If the reaction is histamine related, relief is immediate. These DAO self-evaluation kits can be purchased for under $10 and are a great tool for many of my patients that I recommend it to frequently.

Food Allergy Awareness Week is a great time to bring attention to the difference between food allergy and intolerance, but this is a daily struggle for most people and one that the medical community also struggles with diagnosing. It’s very possible that your family physician may not be aware of these food related reactions so working with a nutritionist or dietitian can be helpful in resolving food related illnesses and deficiencies.

Felicia Stoler, DCN, MS, RDN, FACSM, FAND

Felicia Stoler, DCN, MS, RDN, FACSM, FAND, know as America's Health & Wellness Expert™ is a registered dietitian nutritionist, exercise physiologist and expert consultant in disease prevention, wellness and healthful living. She earned her Master of Science degree in Applied Physiology and Nutrition from Columbia University and her Doctorate in Clinical Nutrition from Rutgers School of Health Professions. She completed her residencies at Rutgers University Athletics and ABC News Medical Unit. Stoler has served as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University where she teaches exercise physiology, nutrition and communications courses.

Stoler has extensive media experience and hosted the second season of TLC's groundbreaking series, “Honey, We're Killing the Kids!” which targeted unhealthy lifestyles of families, across the country, in an effort to motivate them to make positive changes. She is the author of, Living Skinny in Fat Genes™: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great (Pegasus, 2010), featured as a “must have” book in USA Weekend. Stoler authored the American College of Sports Medicine’s “Current Comment on Childhood Obesity.”

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