What your gut is trying to tell you through a food intolerance

What your gut is trying to tell you through a food intolerance

Your digestive health is the main mood stimulator in your body. A bad tummy means a bad mood. And food intolerances and food allergies are the key players in this regard. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably and this article explains all about how the two are different and can have adverse effects on your digestive system.

Let’s understand in the upcoming sections about the signs and symptoms, causes and treatment options for both. 

Symptoms of food intolerance 

If you suffer from a food intolerance sometime after eating or drinking a particular food/drink group, then you can expect to feel the following symptoms: 

  • Excessive gas 
  • Bloated stomach 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Migraine 
  • Headache 
  • Feeling unwell 
  • Nausea 
  • Palpitations 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Tightness in the chest

Though these symptoms vary from person to person and you might experience only a few of them. If you’re intolerant to a food/ liquid group, then you will be able to eat it in a small quantity (only) without facing any major trouble. For example, if you’re intolerant to gluten, then a small piece of cake won’t hurt but consistent gluten eating could wreak havoc in your tummy. In some cases, even a small portion of the food/liquid group that you may be intolerant to could become a big cause of worry. It’s best if you consult your doctor to understand your food intolerances better before indulging in them.

Similarly, symptoms of food intolerance might not occur immediately after consumption. Since food intolerances arise out of digestive systems, till your food reaches the gut, the symptom of discomfort may not be visible immediately after consumption but could take even longer in some situations. 

Symptoms of food allergies 

The symptoms of a food allergy are more severe in nature than a food intolerance. They include: 

  • Itching or burning around the mouth region 
  • Diarrhoea followed by abdominal cramps
  • Swollen mouth or tongue 
  • Swollen eyes or face 
  • Skin rashes 
  • Nausea followed by vomiting 
  • Red bumps on skin 
  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • Wheezing noises 
  • Swelling in throat/ difficulty in talking 

A food allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a food/ liquid group. Anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction where the occurrence takes place within seconds or minutes of exposure to an allergen. It can turn out to be fatal, especially if not treated in time. The above-mentioned symptoms can also be due to anaphylaxis. 

Causes and types of food intolerance 

A food intolerance arises when your digestive system rejects or is unable to digest certain foods/ liquids. The reasons behind food intolerance include: 

  • IBS can lead to many digestion-related concerns including bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, constipation and diarrhoea. 
  • Absence of an enzyme needed to digest the food group. For example, if your body does not have the enzyme that digests lactose, then you won’t be able to consume large amounts of milk products. 
  • Smell can also be a food intolerance stimulator. For example, if you don’t like the smell of milk, every time you attempt to drink it, you could choke. 

Food usually linked to intolerance includes milk, wheat, nuts, caffeine, fructose, eggs and food additives. 

The different types of food intolerance include: 

  • Lactose intolerance- arises from milk and milk products
  • Gluten intolerance- arises from wheat and wheat products
  • Fructose intolerance- arises from natural sugar found in fruits 
  • Salicylate intolerance- arises from compounds found in veggies, spices, herbs etc.

Let’s understand the relationship between food additives and intolerance:

Food additives are often used by manufacturers to make the product tastier, addictive, appealing and long-lasting. Some of the most commonly found food additives available in the market include antioxidants, artificial colourings, preservatives, sweeteners, flavour enhancers and emulsifiers. Few additives that can cause intolerance include benzoates in preservatives, tartrazine in food dyes and colourings, lecithin in emulsifiers, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in flavourings and taste enhancers among others.

Food intolerance from these can arise since these additives contain chemicals which your body might not be able to digest. Therefore, getting into the habit of food label reading before purchasing is important. Food additives can lead to diarrhoea, bloating, rashes, itching and in some cases may also lead to severe symptoms leading to breathing problems, swelling all over the body, and low blood pressure. The onset may occur several hours after ingesting a food, and the symptoms may persist for several hours or days.

Food intolerance vs food allergy: How are the two different? 

A food intolerance occurs when chemical reactions happen in the body because of food or a drink you consumed. This is not a response from your immune system, rather the digestive system. Food intolerances could arise due to chronic conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or/and other digestive system disorders. 

A food allergy, on the other hand, is a reaction from your immune system that can lead to a negative impact on the functioning of different organs in the body. The symptoms are harsher than a food intolerance and require more stringent medical attention. 

What to do to treat food allergies and intolerance?

The best way to treat your food allergy or food intolerance is through: 

  • Completely eliminating the food/liquid group that is causing discomfort every time you consume it.
  • Limiting your intake of the food/liquid group based on its severity
  • Consult a doctor to understand food pairings that could control the occurrences of such allergies. 
  • Some evidence has shown that probiotic bacteria in fermented and unfermented milk products can be used to alleviate the clinical symptoms of lactose intolerance. Furthermore, considering food allergy and use of probiotics, one of the studies also shows that modulation of commensal bacteria of the gut with probiotics has been shown to modulate the immune system and has an effect on both the prevention and treatment of food allergy.

Though more research is going on, in such cases having probiotics from natural sources or doctor prescribed probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, bifidobacterium could be a good choice.

Please consult your doctor before foregoing any food or liquid group or taking any medication for the same. 

Food intolerance: How to keep them at bay?

  • You can keep food intolerance at bay by first identifying the food that affects your digestive system. 
  • It is important to know that if you eliminate any food group then you might not be able to complete your nutrient levels. To counter this, you would need to include supplements that fulfil this need. In case of food intolerances arising due to IBS, probiotics could work in improving your gut health by adding good and healthy bacteria. Probiotics supplements are said to reduce abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, gas and bloating while helping improve overall IBS symptoms. In cases of food intolerance, particularly with concerns arising due to IBS, you can opt for probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus plantarum 299v. This probiotic not only normalises the stool and relief of abdominal pain, which significantly improves the quality of life of IBS patients but also prevents C. difficile-associated diarrhoea among patients receiving antibiotic treatment. 

Kindly note that it is always better to take probiotic supplements under doctor’s guidance.

  • Staying away from processed foods can also help you as these foods sometimes contain hidden ingredients such as gluten or lactose for its production.  

How to prevent food allergies in children?

Since children are at a development stage and might not have a strong digestive system compared to an adult, soy and milk allergies are common. This does not mean that this food allergy is permanent, it may go away with age. The symptoms of the same include bowel problems, shortness of breath, runny nose, poor growth, skin rashes, asthma and others. 

Avoiding the food groups that children are allergic to is the first step to be taken. Secondly, to treat children’s food allergy, it is important to consult their paediatrician since they know about the child’s complete medical history according to which further proper treatment can be given. 

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