A food allergy occurs in only 1 to 2 percent of Americans, whereas food intolerance occurs in up to 20 percent of the population. Missbichler explains that a food allergy is an abnormal reaction to certain food proteins, usually triggered by the body's immune system, that can cause serious illness and, in some cases, death.
On the other hand, food intolerance is a delayed, negative reaction to a food, beverage, or food additive usually due to insufficient levels of a specific enzyme. According to Dr. Marcus Laux, N.D., renowned naturopathic physician and leading authority on science-based natural medicines, "Most all food intolerances are confused with food allergies, and this has lead to lack of help and treatment. People live for years with the broad ranging discomforts associated with food intolerance without realizing what is causing their symptoms."
So how can you tell the difference?
Missbichler explains, “The question is: When do symptoms occur? If they are present within five minutes, it is an allergy. If they present after half an hour or later, it is food intolerance. In addition, allergy reactions do not depend on the amount of food you take, whereas food intolerance worsens as you consume more and more of the offending food.”
The four primary types of known food intolerance are in response to histamine, fructose, lactose, and gluten. Conditions such as lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance have only recently gained credence, according to the national health magazine's report. Yet one of the most prevalent yet virtually unknown types is histamine intolerance—an inability to degrade the histamine found in many foods due to inadequate activity of the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). Missbichler says, “Histamine-related food intolerance is actually as big a problem—if not bigger—than gluten intolerance.”
Histamine levels are very high in popular “guilty pleasure” foods such as pizza, beer, red wine, cured and smoked meats and fish, many types of cheeses and nuts, and various fruits and vegetables. As foods lose their freshness, they also accumulate increased levels of histamine. Unfortunately, millions of Americans have insufficient levels of DAO to process the high levels of histamine in many of the foods they love.
The effects of histamine-related food intolerance can range from common digestive system problems such as abdominal pain and spasms, diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence to headaches, skin rashes, eczema, and hives—all due to the body’s genetic incompatibility for processing histamine.