Food intolerance is the term used when a person has problems digesting a specific food. Eating foods that you can’t easily digest can make you feel terrible. Reacting negatively to certain types of food may be dependent on the volume of the food consumed. For many people with food intolerances, a small amount often does not cause noticeable problems.
Food Intolerance or Food Allergy
It’s important to make the distinction between food intolerance and food allergy, because the two reactions – although both uncomfortable – originate in different systems within the body. There is a significant difference between living with a food intolerance and living with a food allergy.
People with food allergies may experience severe reactions to certain foods. A food allergy triggers a reaction from the body’s immune system. The body’s natural defense mechanisms identify the protein or other allergen in the food as a dangerous invader. The body reacts quickly by producing antibodies.
Even tiny amounts of the allergen may trigger typical allergic reactions like swelling of the skin, itchiness or hives. For some people, a serious allergic reaction may occur when they eat certain types of food. Symptoms may include dizziness or difficulty breathing, and immediate treatment may be necessary. People with serious food allergies usually carry epi-pens for emergency use. In some cases, food allergies are severe enough that being in the same room, inhaling, or touching the food can cause a reaction.
There are a few foods that are responsible for most of food allergies in adults. While it’s possible to be allergic to any food, most allergic reactions occur after eating shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts or fish.
A food intolerance triggers a reaction in the body’s digestive system. People who can’t break down a certain type of food properly may experience digestive distress. Some examples include occasional bloating or gas, stomach pressure or irregularity.
Managing a food intolerance may be inconvenient, but many people achieve their goal of cutting offending foods from their diet by using a few common tactics.
Before you figure out which foods may be at fault for your digestive discomfort, it can be difficult to remember what you ate and which foods may have triggered occasional gas, bloating or irregularity. Keeping a food diary is an effective way to make a clear connection between digestive problems and a certain food. You may feel uncomfortable soon after eating, or the onset of digestive upset may happen hours later. Establishing a pattern is especially helpful if you are working with a healthcare practitioner. A food diary will help you speak confidently about your experiences as they relate to the food you’ve eaten. If you know that certain foods trigger occasional stomach upset, avoiding them and continuing to keep a food diary will help clarify the issue.
Supplements with digestive enzymes help support digestion in people with food intolerances. It’s common for adults and children to have an intolerance to certain types of food because they don’t have the enzymes needed for their proper digestion.
Identifying Food Intolerances
Doctors may have difficulty diagnosing food intolerances with 100% accuracy. While there are exact tests available for Celiac disease and lactose intolerance, diagnosis of other food intolerances may involve an exclusion diet. Upon doctor recommendation, a patient who suspects a food intolerance avoids that food and any ingredient or additive that has the food for a period of two weeks to two months. When taking part in an exclusion diet, it’s important to completely cut out the food and any ingredients that may include the food.
If the digestive issues subside when during the exclusion diet, they reintroduce the food and pay close attention to their body’s response. If they feel uncomfortable after reintroduction of the food, that may be the culprit.
Some doctors ask their patients to take part in an elimination diet to help clarify which food causes an unwanted reaction. An elimination diet may involve removing dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, corn, tree nuts, fish, preservatives, artificial sugars and artificial dyes from the diet.
After a predetermined amount of time, often several weeks, one food at a time is reintroduced to the diet. If all goes well, another food goes back into the diet a few days later. In many cases, one or more foods cause unpleasant digestive issues. This process helps a doctor figure out which, if any, food sensitivities and intolerances cause occasional stomach upset.
Signs of Food Intolerance
People who experience unpleasant side effects after eating a certain food may naturally try to avoid it. Others want to understand what’s going on and get a definitive answer about whether they have a food intolerance.
Common signs of food intolerance include occasional nausea, fatigue, digestive discomfort, stomach pressure, bloating or irregularity. The situation may change with each incident of exposure to the food.
For some, the sudden onset of occasional cramps, gas, bloating, or stomach pressure means that they have difficulty digesting certain foods. For others, feeling exhausted affects day-to-day life, but has no clear cause. In these cases, it’s important to consider the possibility of a food intolerance. Long-term fatigue that doesn’t resolve with a consistent sleep schedule can devastate a person’s ability to function. It’s a difficult condition to figure out. In some cases, dropping a triggering food can bring relief.
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Negative Effects of Food Intolerance
Unlike food allergies, food intolerance is not deadly. It causes problems for sufferers and may inhibit them from doing things they previously enjoyed, like eating out and traveling.
People who have a food intolerance may avoid social situations where there’s food but a bathroom isn’t easily accessible, like music festivals or long theater productions. They may also avoid situations where there aren’t modern bathroom facilities available, like hiking, camping or boating.
When away from home, it’s a good idea to plan so you can avoid foods that may cause problems. Before eating out, try to check restaurant menus online to find a few options that you’ll enjoy but won’t trigger an upset stomach. Some people with food intolerances find that calling a restaurant ahead of time to find out about the menu is helpful.
Occasional bloating, stomach discomfort and fatigue may persist for several days because of a food intolerance. Exposing the body to foods it can’t properly digest doesn’t just cause discomfort – over long periods of time, repeated exposure can lead to widespread inflammation.
People who constantly battle stomach problems, skin problems like eczema, discomfort in the joints and fatigue may experience a diminished quality of life because of these unpleasant experiences. And they may feel discouraged if they’ve had difficulty figuring out what’s causing their discomfort.
Do you think you have a food intolerance?
A single bout of nausea, gas, bloating or abdominal discomfort does not mean you have a food intolerance. Food intolerances are specific to the individual. Not everyone has the same issues, even if they are intolerant of the same foods.
If you continue to feel uncomfortable and it’s preventing you from doing the things you want, like traveling, talk to your doctor. You can discuss your experiences and your healthcare practitioner can figure out if you need tests to exclude a more serious condition.
Try keeping a diary of everything you eat. Include the date, time, and amount of each food eaten. Sometimes, digestive upset from a food intolerance shows up hours or even days after eating the offending ingredient. This is one reason it can be hard to associate the intolerance with a specific food. Keeping a diary will help you and your doctor sort out the details. It also takes some pressure off you and prevents second-guessing your memory.
When trying to figure out a food intolerance, be sure to talk to your healthcare practitioner about any other health concerns. Food intolerances may show that other problems are causing stress on the digestive system. It’s important to take care of your overall health. For many people, the process of figuring out that they are intolerant to a certain food is the catalyst for making healthier choices in other areas of life.
Digest Spectrum™ offers support for digesting gluten, phenol, lactose and casin. This kosher and vegan supplement, with a combination of digestive enzymes, offers an answer to digestive discomfort caused by multiple food intolerances in both children and adults.