What is an Intolerance?

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

After we identified that Ashley can’t eat soy we had several questions about why. Is she allergic to soy? And what exactly is an intolerance and how is that different from an allergy?

Having an intolerance means your body doesn’t react well to a particular food or food group. For example, having a soy intolerance is just a way to describe that your body is sensitive to soy.  The reason behind an intolerance can vary from person to person. Perhaps your body can’t digest it, or it irritates the lining of your stomach or intestines.

Image via pixabay

Image via pixabay

A soy allergy is similar in that your body is sensitive to soy, except a soy allergy is caused by your immune system. Because an allergic reaction is based on your immune system rejecting a food, a soy allergy may result in symptoms similar to allergies from pollen or mold. It is possible for people with food allergies to have trouble breathing as their airway swells. This sort of reaction is very, very unlikely with a food intolerance since the immune system isn't involved. 

The easiest way to identify the difference between an allergy and an intolerance is by visiting an allergist for an allergy test. If the test comes up negative and you don't have an allergy, but do have symptoms from a particular food, then you must have an intolerance. Soy intolerance symptoms are not life-threatening, but they can be painful and uncomfortable (like bloating, stomach pain, joint pain, rashes, etc.). Allergy symptoms can include all these symptoms as well, but can also be very dangerous (hives, swelling airways, etc.). Intolerance and allergy symptoms vary from person to person, which can make it difficult to differentiate between them. Remember, the only sure way to identify having an allergy vs. an intolerance is to visit an allergist. We know that Ashley does not have an allergy (because she went to an allergist), so her symptoms are indicating an intolerance. 

Practically, it can be difficult (and not necessary) to explain the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. We find that often it is easier to just say Ashley has a soy allergy. This is especially true at restaurants, where the goal is to communicate that she needs a soy-free meal. Remember, while the symptoms and causes can be different, the underlying issue is the same: your body does not function well with the offending substance, in our case soy.

For further information, WebMD actually has a pretty good article about the general differences between allergies and intolerances.

Talk to you in a couple of days!