Usually around these parts, I post pictures of my food on Wednesdays …
A brain fuel meal that Joel made for me – pan seared chicken with broccoli and butter.
… but today I have something else on my mind.
I tend to use the phrases “I have Celiac” and “I am gluten-intolerant” pretty interchangeably. Technically, both are true. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder, and the autoimmune response is triggered by an intolerance to gluten.
But you will never hear me say “I am allergic to gluten,” because that is not true.
I’ve been studying immune responses and allergies in my anatomy class, and now that I’ve learned a little bit about the differences, I’m glad that I make that clear.
Intolerances and allergies can have similar symptoms, and both lead to inflammation, but the processes are very different.
Allergies are characterized by a histamine response – histamine is a chemical released by our immune systems to clear our bodies of unwanted substances. In the case of food allergies, histamine is released in response to a specific protein. Histamine can be released in different parts of the body, which is why some people’s lips, tongues, and throats swell, but some people experience stomach pain and bloating (swelling).
Intolerances are different in that they are specific to the digestive system. You’ve probably heard of one called lactose intolerance, in which certain people’s bodies don’t have (or lose) the enzyme lactase, which digests lactose. Also unlike an allergy, an intolerance can be to any compound of a food, not just a protein – in the case of lactose intolerance, lactose is a sugar.
Another similarity between the two – they range from not-so sensitive to very sensitive. This is why some people with peanut allergies can eat a small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and deal with itchy skin for a couple of days, but some people carry EpiPens and don’t like to be in the same room with peanuts.
Gluten, because it is a protein, can be the culprit behind both food intolerances and food allergies.
The takeaway message from all this is food allergies and food intolerances are different conditions. Most of this information came from my anatomy textbook, but if you’re interested in learning more, here is a good article on WebMD about the differences.
katie @KatieDid says
interesting. I always correct people and say I don’t have an allergy either (because that sounds much more serious to me) but it’s true- they both can be very very serious issues, it all depends on the individual.
I remember learning that a few semesters ago. We also looked at pictures of a healthy small intestine and the small intestine of someone who had just been diagnosed with Celiac. The difference was amazing.
Kath (My Funny Little Life) says
Thank you for posting this! I’ve always thought that my food issues were “just” intolerances, but I think at least with dairy and soy, it’s an allergy, because they make my throat and face swell up (and a couple of other not so nice things). Ma dairy allergy is quite bad, I can’t even eat cream or butter very well. With soy, it’s not as bad, and I can consume soy sauce and miso in small amounts, but not soy milk or tofu. White gluten, I’m not sure whether it’s an intolerance or an allergy, but one of the two.
Laura, RD @ Against The Grain says
Broccoli is so good!!!! 🙂 And I’m glad someone knows the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance. ha. I have patients try to tell me they are allergic to a million different foods all the time. It drives me crazy.
Tara@Sugar Spice and Bacon says
Thanks for this post! I learn something new every day! 🙂
Sara @my less serious life says
thanks for this! i didn’t know any of it! plus fantastic pat of butter on your veggies!
Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance says
To be honest, I never even thought of the terms as being different– and that’s coming from someone with egg and wheat intolerances haha. Thanks for this informative post!
The Healthy Apple says
Well said and great post. Just found your blog and I love it!
Healthy Apple – Thanks so much!