It is said that ‘one mans pleasure is another mans poison’ and this is certainly the case with food intolerances. Why is it that some people react badly to even a small item of food and others consume it by the plateful with no ill effects?
Firstly lets distinguish between food allergy and intolerance. Food allergy is widely accepted as an immediate or fairly quick response by the body to a food that involves the immune system and can be serious and even life threatening. Those with these allergies usually have them for life and have to exert extreme caution to avoid the offending item.
Food intolerance however is an adverse reaction to food that does not usually involve the immune system but can still be the cause of many niggling health problems and long term can run down the immune system and cause ill health. It can be difficult to detect as it can involve a very wide range of symptoms affecting digestion , skin, joints, sinus , energy levels, mood and memory/brain function among others and may occur anywhere between minutes and days after eating the problem food.
To add even more confusion intolerances can be unique to each person with each individual being sensitive to different foods, with different symptoms and varying lengths and intensity of suffering. Any symptoms first need to be checked by a doctor to ensure no serious health condition.
One cause of food intolerance can be an inefficient digestive system – where foods are inadequately broken down. The walls of the digestive tract could become ‘leaky’ allowing partially digested foods through into the blood stream causing adverse reactions. Another cause can be a enzyme deficiency such as milk intolerance ( different to milk allergy) where the cause can be a lack of lactase the enzyme responsible for breaking down milk sugars. The problem may also be an accumulation of minor health problems over a period of time which have gradually weakened the mechanisms by which we absorb, digest and excrete out foods.
Many factors can be implicated in this including stress or trauma, viral illness, long term drug abuse or medication, an accident, an inherited susceptibility, alcohol abuse, long term poor diet or bad eating habits or a combination of any of these.
Almost any food can cause intolerance but the common intolerances are:
- Milk or diary
- Wheat or gluten (found in wheat, barley oats and rye)
- Citrus fruits
You may be intolerant to the whole food or to individual chemicals within the foods such as salicylate (in aspirin and painkillers, herbs, fruit and vegetables) or tyramine (in aged meat, wine and cheeses.) Reactions may also be to additives of processed foods including preservatives, colourings and anti-oxidants.
Identifying food intolerances
If you suspect you suffer a food intolerance identifying the problem food and any underlying causes is a major step to reclaiming health. Food intolerance can cause a very wide range of symptoms from digestive distress to skin, joint and sinus problems as well emotional, mental and concentration difficulties. Food intolerance can be difficult to detect as reactions to food can occur within minutes, hours or even days.
Keeping a food and symptom diary may be one method to help you identify culprit foods. There are many other methods for testing including blood tests, kineseology or Bio-resonance testing which measures the bodies electro-magnetic field during testing for intolerances and sensitivities.
A self-help measure you may be advised to try is a simple elimination diet. The idea is that you cut certain foods from your diet to see if your symptoms lessen or cease. It is usually done in two phases with the elimination of suspected foods first for a period of time – usually 2 to 4 weeks. The second phase is the re-introduction of eliminated food/s noting if the problems re-occur. You may be lucky and guess the right food but usually this is difficult as it may be a combination of foods causing the symptoms. In some cases removing the irritant from the system for a period of time may allow the bodies own recuperative powers to take over and repair the damaged digestive system. However the body usually requires more help in the form of lifestyle and dietary improvements and in many the cases the help of supplements or medications. You must also ensure that your diet remains healthy whilst eliminating foods and is therefore best done under medical supervision.
Those who have multiple intolerance, borderline sensitivity or a tendency towards these may benefit from using a ‘rotation’ diet as a tool for managing intolerances or helping to prevent new ones from forming. A rotation diet allows you to eat foods to which you have a mild or borderline reaction on a rotation basis where each food or food groups are only consumed every 4 or 5 days. With intolerances many problem foods may be eaten in small quantities (unlike food allergy where complete avoidance is necessary) and will only cause problems when eaten in quantity. Each individual can strive to find their tolerance limit although sometimes your reactions vary according to factors such as stress and emotional stress levels, general health and amount of adequate rest and sleep.