Allergies, Sensitivities, or Intolerance?

You’ve probably heard or know of someone in your life that has said that they’re lactose intolerant and you’ve probably made the assumption that this person is allergic to milk products. It’s an understandable assumption to make right? After all, this person avoids consuming dairy products in an effort to prevent their body from reacting negatively towards it. But does having intolerance towards a certain food really mean the same thing as having an allergy towards it? Not quite. Allergies, sensitivities and intolerances are terms often used interchangeably, but they don’t actually mean the same thing.

What is a Food Allergy?

One experiences a food allergy when the immune system mistakenly sees a harmless substance (food) as a threat to the body. As a result, it responds by attacking the food in an effort to “protect” the body from this “foreign creature”. When the immune system attacks this substance, the body experiences many symptoms, from mild to severe. Some of these symptoms include rashes, difficulty breathing, swollen face, and low blood pressure. In an effort to prevent life threatening symptoms, people with allergies to certain foods tend to steer their diet clear of those foods. If a person consumes a food they are allergic too, they can either inject their epinephrine pen, or seek medical help right away. Some common food allergies include, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish and milk.

What is Food Sensitivity?

Food sensitivity is when consumption of a certain food causes symptoms unrelated to food allergies or intolerance. In this case, exposure to certain foods creates an immune reaction that leads to uncomfortable, mild symptoms. Some symptoms include stomach pain, rashes, fatigue, or brain fog. The process of identifying food sensitivities can often be challenging, but with the help of a dietitian, it is more than possible to figure out which food is causing the issue. A dietitian may help by removing foods from the diet for a specified amount of time, and then reintroducing the foods one by one. This elimination diet can help target which food is causing the symptoms, and fundamentally lead you to find the food that is causing sensitivity. In many cases, gluten is the cause of food sensitivity, but other foods like dairy or nuts can also be to blame.

What is Food Intolerance?

A food intolerance occurs when the body is unable to digest a certain food. The most common symptoms of food intolerance include stomach bloating or diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is one form of food intolerance that is experienced by approximately 60 percent of people. In this situation, the body does not make enough lactate enzymes which results in the inability to digest lactose. Most people can solve their intolerance symptoms by eliminating the problem food from their diets, but in some cases there is an alternative solution. For example, in the case of lactose intolerance, a person may be able to purchase a substance that contains the lactate enzyme. They would then be able to add the lactate enzymes into any food containing lactose, and enjoy the food without any problem.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Our gut contains many forms of bacteria that help in maintaining its homeostasis. Probiotics are a form of bacteria, often called “good” bacteria, which can help keep the gut healthy. Often times, the consumption of probiotics can help support healthy digestion and boost overall immunity. Prebiotics are yet another substance that can improve gut health. The difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that prebiotics are a type of food for probiotics. Prebiotics are a form of fiber that promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

Both probiotics and prebiotics can be obtained from the diet, however many times the incorporation of supplemental probiotics/prebiotics can be more beneficial. One such supplement is lactobacillus plantarum 299v. This specific probiotic is used extensively in the treatment of diarrhea. Along with this, the probiotic is also found to contain anticancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and anti-diabetic properties. Another supplement that stands out is saccharomyces boulardii, which, can help fight against diarrhea and gastrointestinal tract infections. Bifidobacterium, streptococcus, and enterococcus are three additional probiotic supplements. Bifidobacterium can be found naturally in the gut and in certain foods such as yogurt. Streptococcus can also be found in yogurts and dairy foods. The benefits of this probiotic include prevention of diarrhea, constipation and diabetes. Enterococcus is a probiotic often used to help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

As discussed, the consumption of probiotic supplements can have many beneficial impacts for both the gut and the overall body. Consuming these substances will fundamentally nourish the digestive tract and fight off “bad” bacteria.


1. Marcelo Campos, M. (2020, January 30). Food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity: What’s the difference, and why does it matter? Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/food-allergy-intolerance-or-sensitivity-whats-the-difference-and-why-does-it-matter-2020013018736

2. Crowe, S. (2019, January). Food allergy vs food intolerance in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6423694/

3. Thomas, D. (2019, February 26). Food allergy and intolerance research. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Food-Allergy-and-Intolerance-Research.aspx

4. Schultz M;Veltkamp C;Dieleman LA;Grenther WB;Wyrick PB;Tonkonogy SL;Sartor RB;. (n.d.). Lactobacillus Plantarum 299V in the treatment and prevention of SPONTANEOUS colitis in interleukin-10-deficient mice. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11854603/

5. Kelesidis, T., & Pothoulakis, C. (2012, March). Efficacy and safety of the probiotic saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders. Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296087/

6. Office of dietary supplements – probiotics. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2021, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=The%20seven%20core%20genera%20of,commercial%20strains%20of%20probiotic%20organisms.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts