Brazilian Natural Medicine

Understand the Differences Between Food Allergy and Intolerance — CMIO(Brazil)

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Despite having similar symptoms and appearing after eating some food, food intolerance and food allergy are different problems, with different causes and treatments. Both can bring very negative impacts and discomforts in the lives of people who often need to take a certain food out of their routine.

Food intolerance is characterized by poor digestion of certain foods. The problem is a result of the deficiency or absence of enzymes responsible for breaking larger molecules into smaller products, which the body is able to absorb and use properly.

The person with food intolerance partially absorbs these nutrients, which start to ferment, causing symptoms such as abdominal swelling, flatulence and cramps, and can also cause diarrhea. The severity of the manifestations depends on the amount ingested of a particular nutrient and the amount that each person can tolerate. In many cases, only abdominal pain and/or distension may occur, without diarrhea. Symptoms can take from a few minutes to many hours to appear, however, despite being uncomfortable for patients, once recognized, it can be controlled by simple dietary adjustments.

In food allergy, the body reacts shortly after exposure to the food that causes the allergy. However, this manifestation can be immediate or take a few hours or days to occur, the most common being reactions involving the skin (hives, swelling, itching, eczema) and the gastrointestinal tract (diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting). More intense manifestations, affecting several organs simultaneously, such as the skin and respiratory tract (anaphylaxis), may also occur.

In hypersensitivity reactions, the first exposure to the allergenic food can trigger a reaction, however, after subsequent exposures this reaction can become more intense.


Food intolerance is not a disease, but a condition of the body. In the case of lactose intolerance, which is quite common, for example, it is possible to prevent new symptoms by reducing the consumption of milk and dairy products, in addition to products or foods prepared with milk, or replacing them with derivatives that have already gone through the fermentation process, such as yogurts and cheeses, which, therefore, present in their composition a smaller amount of the nutrient in its form of larger molecules.

Another way to avoid symptoms is to try lactase enzyme supplements available in the market in tablets or chewable tablets, however they should be used as a complement and not as a substitute for dietary restriction, this is because these enzymes may not completely relieve symptoms or by incomplete digestion of lactose or by the difficulty of determining its dose precisely. The person with lactose intolerance can have a normal life, just receive dietary guidance from qualified health professionals.

Food intolerance is more common in adults and there is a natural tendency for it to develop with age. There are dietary instructions that allow the individual with intolerance to have a peaceful life and without the risk of nutritional deficiencies as a result of food restriction.

In the case of food allergies, the exclusion of the allergenic food from the diet is indicated until the organism adapts or develops tolerance to that food. It is common that, over time, the body develops tolerance to the substance capable of causing allergy, but this process must be monitored by a doctor, because while there is an allergy, simple exposure to the triggering food can generate serious reactions, such as anaphylaxis, which imposes Immediate help as it is potentially fatal if not treated quickly.

If some of these symptoms and warning signs are identified, the first consultation can be made at a Basic Health Unit (UBS).

Ministry of Health

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