Oil Allergy vs. Oil Intolerance?

When I first figured out that I had a problem with industrial seed oils back in 2011 I read everything I could and the literature was fairly clear; if you weren’t having a histamine reaction and couldn’t die from anaphylaxis, what you had was not an allergy. Celiac was not an allergy to wheat; it was an auto immune issue.

WebMed (my least favorite medical website) pretty much sums up the medical communities feelings about the difference between the two in 2011:

Food Allergy:

  • Usually comes on suddenly
  • Small amount of food can trigger
  • Happens every time you eat the food
  • Can be life-threatening

Food Intolerance:

  • Usually comes on gradually
  • May only happen when you eat a lot of the food
  • May only happen if you eat the food often
  • Is not life-threatening

A food allergy and an intolerance both can cause:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Different Symptoms

When a food irritates your stomach or your body can’t properly digest it, that’s an intolerance. You may have these symptoms:

  • Gas, cramps, or bloating
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

A food allergy happens when your immune system mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your whole body, not just your stomach. Symptoms may include:

  • Rash, hives, or itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing — this is life-threatening. Call 911 immediately.”

Even though I was pretty sure that my immune system was involved when I ate oils and I didn’t need a large amount to trigger a reaction, just a trace was enough, I figured my problem with oils was an intolerance not an allergy because I didn’t have classic histamine symptoms. I’ve gotten comfortable with intolerance as a description of what I have over the years and most people who find my blog use search terms like “intolerance to oils”.

But I was listening to Sean Croxton interview a man named Tom Malterre last week. Tom Malterre talked about the differences between an allergy and a food intolerance on the show and I realized that my problem with oils is probably an allergy.

He basically said that although mainstream doctors still don’t classify non- IgE reactions as allergy, if the immune system reacts to a particular food, medical researchers basically agree that its a food allergy– even if it is not a classic allergy.

He went on to say that an intolerance is when the body doesn’t digest a food. So for example lactose intolerance is when a person doesn’t have the enzymes needed to digest lactose either because of a genetic problem or because of a microbial imbalance and the milk causes bacterial upset in the intestines and is poorly tolerated, causing gas, bloating, diarrhea, and intestinal pain and discomfort.

So I went online and sure enough although Webmed said what it said four years ago, a lot of allergy websites now define food allergies as a reaction of the immune system against a particular food. For example:

“Non-IgE- mediated reactions, which are poorly defined both clinically and scientifically, are believed to be T-cell-mediated. They are typically delayed in onset, and occur 4 to 28 hours after ingestion of the offending food(s).”

http://www.worldallergy.org/professional/allergic_diseases_center/foodallergy/

My symptoms are all over the map which is why I was confused.

First of all the acute symptoms are delayed by anywhere from a few hours to several days, which is classic of an intolerance.

Second it only takes a trace of the offending substance to cause a severe reaction, which is classic allergy.

Third the the acute symptoms are nausea, fever, vomiting, gas, cramps, belly pain, sometimes so gut wrenching that I feel bruised the next day, back pain, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, inability to relax muscles, tremors, obsessive thoughts, crying jags, feelings of self loathing, drugged feelings (not in anyway pleasant), inability to make decisions, trembling, anxiety, headaches (sometimes migraines), sensitivity to light, noise, and temperature changes, rashes, hives, swelling of previous injuries, aches, joint pain, diarrhea, constipation, and irritability. Some of which are allergy and some of which are intolerance.

And lastly the less acute symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Mental difficulties ranging from memory loss, brain fog and to inability to make decisions and reason through things. Loss of spacial understanding (thus I hurt myself a lot because I am constantly knocking myself on objects). Loss of energy and drive. Depression, anxiety both low grade floating and acute. Vision problems, spots floaters, and flashes as well as difficulty transitioning between light and dark. Blood sugar issues, hormonal issues, sleep issues, inability to heal and low immune function (so if I get injured it takes twice as long to heal and I get sick a lot, suffering from sties, low grade infections like sinus infections, yeast infections, sties and fungal infections.) My allergies also become worse, to the point where I get hives and have breathing problems from being in the same area as many substances–substances that I have no trouble with if I have not been exposed to oils recently. Dry skin, bad breath and because after an exposure I sweat more I tend to have body oder too. Bowel problems continue, as do headaches, neck pain, wrist problems, joint pain, charlie horses and shin splints.

The fact that the symptoms linger as long as they do seems more indicative of allergy than intolerance. Although again, it’s not cut and dried.  What with all the new info I’m pretty sure what I have is really a food allergy. Still I will probably continue to call what I have an oil intolerance for convenience sake.

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3 Responses to Oil Allergy vs. Oil Intolerance?

  1. Lena says:

    It came by e-mail, yay! Thanks for posting this

  2. Noel F. Marks says:

    I have a severe olive oil intolerance. The tiniest trace of olive oil, even cross contamination will cause me to get physically ill. Bloating, intestinal gas, stomach cramping, and vomiting can occur starting approx. 20 – 30 minutes after eating. It is a general feeling of “malaise” which luckily passes after approx. 4-6 hours after consuming a food which had olive oil in it. Once in a great while it lasts into the next day, but then it passes.

    For years, (over 10-20 years or more) I would get nauseated after eating meals. Normally in restaurants, but also large family gatherings. I luckily discovered what was causing my gastro problem almost by accident. I frequently order a turkey sub for lunch at a local pizza shop. I normally get sliced turkey breast, provolone cheese, tomato, lettuce, hot banana peppers, salt, pepper and mayonnaise. One day after eating one of these subs I got this “malaise” with all of the normal symptoms. The next day I went in to the shop and asked if anyone else had gotten sick after eating a turkey sub the day before. They said no. I then asked if they had changed any of the ingredients used on my sub. Same brand of turkey, same cheese, same tomatoes, lettuce, hot peppers, salt, pepper, BUT they had changed to Helman’s Mayonnaise with “Olive Oil” which was being promoted as healthier!

    It was an AHA moment for me. That day I ordered a turkey sub, dry WITHOUT mayonnaise containing olive oil, and I did not get sick. I then started inspecting food packaging whenever I got the “malaise” and discovered in every case olive oil was in the item. Unfortunately olive oil is now found in quite a few foods including soup, breads, fried foods, and most Italian, Greek, and Mediterranean foods. I have learned my extended family used it in their holiday dishes, (which explained why I usually got sick after eating Xmas and Thanksgiving Dinner!) I still get tripped up, which I believe is due to cross contamination. Recently I got the “malaise” after eating spaghetti my wife made with tomato sauce I knew did not contain olive oil. I called the company that manufactured the sauce, and they informed me their food scientists insisted there was no olive oil in the sauce; HOWEVER the lines which produce the product also produce products that do have olive oil in them. Thus there can be cross contamination.

    I do not break out in hives, or skin rashes; rather it is always stomach “malaise.” My research into my intolerance to olive oil reveals it is relatively rare, but other folks do also suffer the same symptoms. In fact I recently learned my sister has the same intolerance to olive oil. Unfortunately I have tried everything I can think of when the “malaise” strikes, but nothing works. Only time cures it as my system rids itself of the olive oil.

    Sorry this has been so long winded, but I thought you might like to know you are not alone in your suffering. —Noel F. Marks

    • Noel- Thank you for commenting. Sorry to hear you have this problem too. I have a suggestion for the malaise. I have had luck with taking alpha lipoic acid. It works best if I take it before the symptoms appear but it does reduce the severity even if I take it when I am in the throes of a full reaction. It might help you too. Take care.

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