The Lettuce Inn

Where Lucy discovers the truth about food...and other stuff too!

08 February 2012



A food intolerance is a negative reaction, often delayed, to a food, drink or food additive that produces symptoms in one or more body organs and systems, but it is not a true food allergy. 

Intolerance can be caused from the absence of specific chemicals or enzymes needed to digest a food substance, such as in lactose intolerance and hereditary fructose intolerance. It may be a result of an abnormality in the body's ability to absorb nutrients, as occurs in fructose malabsorption. Food intolerance reactions can occur to naturally occurring chemicals in foods, as in salicylate sensitivity.

Unlike allergies and coeliac disease, which are immune reactions to food proteins, intolerances don’t involve the immune system at all. They are triggered by food chemicals which cause reactions by irritating nerve endings in different parts of the body, rather in the way that certain drugs can cause side-effects in sensitive people.

Some people are born with a sensitive constitution and react more readily to food chemicals than others. The tendency is probably inherited, but environmental triggers — a sudden change of diet, a bad food or drug reaction, a nasty viral infection — can bring on symptoms at any age by altering the way the body reacts to food chemicals. Women often become more sensitive in their child-bearing years, perhaps due to hormonal changes, which might be nature’s way of preventing pregnant and breast-feeding women from eating foods that could harm the developing baby.

Babies are more vulnerable to food chemicals because their metabolism, gastrointestinal and nervous systems are immature, which is why they often prefer bland foods. As children mature, their bodies become accustomed to handling small amounts of rich, spicy and highly flavoured foods, which usually only cause ill effects if eaten in excess.

Symptoms of food intolerance vary greatly, it can be difficult to determine the offending food causing a food intolerance because the response generally takes place over a prolonged period of time. Food intolerance symptoms usually begin about half an hour after eating or drinking the food in question, but sometimes symptoms may be delayed up to 48 hours.

Symptoms triggered by food chemical intolerances vary from person to person. The most common ones are recurrent hives and swellings, headaches, sinus trouble, mouth ulcers, nausea, 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. Even breast-fed babies can have food intolerance reactions due to chemicals from the mother’s diet getting into the breast milk, causing colicky irritable behaviour, loose stools, eczema and nappy rashes.

Diagnosis of food intolerance can include hydrogen breath testing for lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption, elimination diets, and testing for IgG-mediated immune responses to specific foods.   Treatment can involve long-term avoidance, or if possible re-establishing a level of tolerance.

Food intolerances don’t necessarily need to be permanent. You may be able to build up your tolerance levels by gradually increasing the amount and variety of foods you have an intolerance to over several weeks or months, and eventually return to a more normal diet. Even if this is not possible, you’ll learn ways of avoiding severe reactions by looking out for the foods that upset you most.

If you are having trouble working out foods that you are sensitive to or need assistance with an elimination diet, a dietician will be able to help identify these foods and help you put together a diet.

Food intolerance reactions can be unpleasant and inconvenient, but they are rarely serious and, as far as is known, they cause no long-term harm. Their severity depends on the amount of the offending foods you’ve eaten, your degree of sensitivity, and the nature of your symptoms. Once you’ve worked out what your problem foods are, you’ll be able to decide how to balance the benefits of being free from distressing symptoms against the inconvenience of restricting your dietary choices.



Post a Comment