Food Sensitivities vs. Food Allergies: How to Know the Difference

Most people have experienced an adverse reaction in their body to something they ate. For many, an adverse reaction could be nothing more than an upset stomach caused by food sensitivities. These reactions to food are quite common and are usually a form of indigestion triggered by the body’s immune system. On the other end of this spectrum, a smaller (yet still significant) segment of the population suffers from more serious reactions to food allergies. These allergic reactions occur in response to specific foods and result in symptoms and conditions that are far more severe than an upset stomach.

With both of these food reactions being so common, it is crucial to understand the differences between the two. While reactions to a food sensitivity can be quite uncomfortable and negatively impact comprehensive wellness, they are not life- threatening and will go away in time. On the other hand, reactions to food allergies can be life-threatening and should be addressed immediately by a doctor.

The Facts About Food Allergies

A food allergy is a severe immune system response to a certain food. More specifically, this allergic reaction from the body’s immune system is caused by a certain protein within that food. Whichever protein that causes the allergic reaction is then classified as an allergen. For the majority of the population, these proteins are harmless. Unfortunately, food allergies are fairly common and can show up at any point in a person’s life, including the later stages of adulthood.

How Common Are Food Allergies?

According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), 33 million Americans struggle with at least one food allergy. Breaking this number down even further, one out of every ten adults and one out of every thirteen children have a food allergy.

What Are the Symptoms of a Food Allergy?

Not every individual food allergy produces a severe reaction. Mild reactions often include hives and an itchy mouth. While these types of reactions are not life- threatening, they are still indicative of a food allergy and should be taken as a warning against ingesting that specific food again in the future.

The more severe reactions to a food allergy include the tightening of the throat and difficulty breathing; both of these symptoms should be taken very seriously and often require immediate medical attention.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction to food and can even be fatal if not treated immediately with epinephrine, which is a prescribed form of adrenaline. During anaphylaxis, the immune system overwhelms the body with a wide range of chemicals. This reaction sends the body into shock, dropping blood pressure and causing issues with breathing by narrowing the airways. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis can include vomiting, nausea, skin rash and a weak, rapid pulse.

What Are the Most Common Sources of a Food Allergy?

Although more than 170 different foods have been reported to trigger a food allergy, most of the severe allergic reactions in the US can be attributed to nine specific food allergens:

  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Sesame

Do Food Allergies Ever Go Away?

Certain allergies can dissipate naturally during childhood by the age of five, although this rate of dissipation appears to be progressing more slowly today than it did in past decades. These allergens include wheat, soy, milk and eggs.

Unfortunately, allergies to fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts are usually life- long conditions. To make matters worse, there is not currently any cure for a food allergy. The only way to successfully manage a food allergy is for a person to adhere to a diet that excludes any type of food that has caused them to have an allergic reaction.

How is a Food Sensitivity Different Than a Food Allergy?

The characteristic that most sets food allergies and food sensitivities apart is the severity of the reaction. Another differing trait can be found in the affected areas of these conditions; instead of affecting the body’s immune system, food sensitivities mostly impact the digestive system. A food sensitivity will not lead to life-threatening conditions, and it is often the result of the body’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract lacking in an enzyme that the body requires to break down a certain food. Food sensitivities also tend to build up gradually over time, while allergic food reactions are immediate and sudden onset.

What Are the Symptoms of Food Sensitivity?

Food sensitivities are also sometimes referred to as food intolerances. The symptoms of food sensitivities often take hours to show up, which is a stark contrast to the immediate nature of food allergies. While they are less severe than the reactions caused by food allergies, these symptoms can still have a negative impact on comprehensive wellness:

  • Upset stomach
  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas and bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches or migraines

What Are the Most Common Sources of Food Sensitivity?

Although a wide variety of foods can lead to food sensitivity, these foods can be broken down into a few distinct categories.


Lactose is the most common source of food sensitivity and occurs when the body does not have enough lactase, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose. According to some estimates, some degree of lactose intolerance affects roughly 44 percent of Americans.

Lactose is found in a wide range of dairy products, including milk, yogurt, butter and all varieties of cheese.


Gluten is a grain-based protein and a common cause of food sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity is a form of indigestion that differs from celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which gluten damages the small intestines.

Gluten is known to exist in products that contain grains like rye, wheat and barley, but it can also show up in other products like processed meats, condiments and beverages.


Vasoactive amines, which are also referred to as amines, are organic chemical compounds that are the result of the body breaking down proteins in food. Histamine is the most common amine intolerance, and it can lead to the familiar symptoms of food sensitivity.

Unfortunately, amines are quite common and can be found in a wide variety of foods that include:

  • Beer and wine
  • Cured meat (especially pork)
  • Peanuts
  • Tomatoes
  • Various hard cheeses (including blue, parmesan and cheddar)
  • Processed poultry and seafood
  • Various fruits (including grapes, oranges, pineapples, strawberries and bananas)
  • Spinach
  • Pickled cabbage
  • Fermented soy products

Do Food Sensitivities Ever Go Away?

Unlike food allergies, food sensitivities can go away. In fact, sensitivities can go away and return, depending on the environment in an individual gut microbiome. The body’s gut microbiome is essentially a battleground where supportive and harmful bacteria attempt to assert dominance over one another, so the balance is constantly changing. Changes in this environment can, therefore, lead to changes in food sensitivities. As is the case with food allergies, the best way to manage a food sensitivity is to avoid the foods that trigger adverse reactions. However, foods that cause food sensitivities can be slowly reintroduced to a person’s diet.

Addressing Food Sensitivities with Nutraceuticals

When a person is allergic to a specific food, that food should be avoided at all costs. However, food sensitivities can be addressed by promoting a healthy environment in the gut microbiome. To provide support for gut health, the nutraceutical industry has developed a wealth of products that consist of various nutrients known for promoting optimal GI function.

The integrative specialists at EVEXIAS Health Solutions offer a full line of professional grade nutraceutical products that have been designed to promote a healthy, balanced environment in the body’s GI tract, including Active Probiotic-ND, BPC-157 LPT, GI Guard, Curcumin Support, Complete Mag, B Complex and Methyl Support. These nutraceuticals have been packed with a full range of specific nutrients to target the various aspects of GI health.

The experts at EVEXIAS Health Solutions also offer more intensive therapies, such as lifestyle management guidance and hormone pellet therapy, that can provide further support of optimal GI function. Find the nearest EVEXIAS Health Solutions provider today to learn more about the best ways to support comprehensive wellness.

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