What’s the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Sensitivity?

recent article in The Age newspaper, reported on research finding the
prevalence of peanut allergies in children has doubled in the past

Canberra-based clinical allergy physician, Dr Raymond Mulllins, lead
author of the study, reported a dramatic increase in the number of
children he was treating for food allergies, from two a month in 1995,
to almost one a day in 2008.

Experts are divided as to the possible causes of this increase,
with some attributing it to the hygiene hypothesis whilst others
speculate that the rise we are seeing in some food allergies may be the
result in part of advice to avoid or delay the introduction of
allergenic foods in the first few years of life.

Experts are also divided as to the cumulative impact of food
sensitivities on patient’s health. Indeed many practitioners do not
even test patients for gut mediated food sensitivity but rely solely on
skin mediated allergies. And make nutritional decisions for patient
based on only half the immune picture!

Full article in The Age.


Dr. Hooper’s Comment

Food sensitivity and intolerance has become increasingly prevalent
in the Australian population, as recently reported on Channel Nine’s “A
Current Affair”, featuring Queensland-based Functional Medicine
Specialist, Dr Greg Emerson.

Given this extensive coverage, it is important to clarify the
difference between food allergy and food sensitivity, a question
commonly asked by practitioners and patients.

Firstly, a food sensitivity or intolerance is not the same thing as a food allergy.

While many allergies, such as peanut, egg and shellfish allergies
lead to dramatic and dangerous reactions, food intolerances typically
give you more subtle, but chronic, prolonged health problems or

Unfortunately food sensitivity is often given a low priority in the investigation of disease.

Food allergy is an immunological adverse reaction to food which is
often IgE-mediated and can be measured in most instances in blood by
detection of specific antibodies.

Food sensitivity is identified by screening blood samples for IgG
antibodies to a panel of foods. The most common food sensitivities
occur with cow’s milk, eggs, beans, nuts and cereals.

Food sensitivity and food intolerance is an area that The Spinal Centre
specialises in because it effects a large percentage of the population
and drives chronic health conditions suffered by so many.

Common conditions where food sensitivity (IgG) may play a significant role
include bloating and fluid retention, inflammatory bowel disease,
irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, depression and mood swings, asthma,
skin conditions and behavioural problems in children.

What is the Difference Between IgE-Mediated Food Allergy Versus IgG-Mediated Food Sensitivity?

IgE Mediated Food Allergy

  • Immediate Onset; a person eats a peanut and goes into shock
  • Easy to Detect
  • Common in children, rare in adults
  • Fixed allergies, usually permanent
  • Involves 1 or 2 foods
  • Offending foods usually need to be avoided permanently
  • Release of inflammatory mediators
  • Symptoms affect the skin, airway and digestive tract.

IgG Mediated Food Sensitivity

  • Delayed onset
  • Detected by specialist laboratory testing such as that provided by The Spinal Centre
  • Most common form of food sensitivity and food intolerance
  • Usually reversible or can be treated with appropriate care and natural medicine
  • Involves multiple foods
  • May be possible to reintroduce some foods
  • Circulating immune complexes
  • Symptoms can affect any tissue or system.


Food Sensitivity Reactions

Symptoms triggered by food chemical intolerances vary from person to person.

The most common are:

  • Recurrent hives and swellings
  • Headaches
  • Sinus trouble
  • Nausea, depression and bloating
  • Stomach pains and bowel irritation
  • Some people feel vaguely unwell, with flu-like aches and pains, or
    get unusually tired, run-down or moody, often for no apparent reason.
  • Children can become irritable and restless, and behavioural
    problems can be aggravated in those with nervous system disorders such
    as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
  • Even breast-fed babies can have food intolerance reactions due to
    foods from the mother’s diet getting into the breast milk, causing
    colicky irritable behaviour, loose stools, eczema and nappy (diaper)

Dealing with Food Sensitivity and Food Intolerances

If you’re having trouble working out which foods are upsetting you,
professional help may be needed to investigate the problem more

Until now this has usually involved attending a practitioner and going on a strict elimination diet.

Elimination diets are hard to maintain, difficult to monitor and
subject to interpretation. Elimination diets can also take weeks or
months to complete with endless visits back and forth to the

Also, because the sensitivity to different foods can vary (you can
be more reactive to wheat than soy or oats) the cumulative effect of
the sensitivities can significantly influence how you feel.

You may also get withdrawal effects from eliminating foods which excaberate symptoms and confuse matters more.


A much easier, cost effective and scientific way is to have a IgG Food Sensitivity Test, performed by The Spinal Centre.

Finally you will know – once and for all – what you can eat, and what you can’t.

If you would like more information on what is involved use the following link to the  IgG Food Sensitivity Test.