What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance refers to difficulty digesting certain foods. A person with a food intolerance will experience symptoms of stomach discomfort. They include bloating, excess gas, stomach pain and upset stomach after eating the food that triggers sensitivities.
Food sensitivities can be due to two factors. One is the lack of digestive enzymes which can act on that particular food in the body. For example, people having lactose intolerance do not have enough lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose into smaller molecules that can be easily absorbed by the body. The second reason could be sensitivity to certain chemicals in the food.
Symptoms of food intolerance include spasms, stomachache, bloating, diarrhoea, and gas. Gluten intolerance causes several non digestive symptoms also like fatigue, brain fog, depression and headaches.
Common culprits include caffeine, fructose, milk and gluten which is found in grains like wheat and barley. Food additives like the popular ajinomoto, food colors and preservatives can also trigger food reactions.
A food allergy is the outcome of an immune system reaction to a specific food. Many celebrities have been in the news for food allergies. Did you know that Serena Williams, the famous tennis player, is allergic to peanuts? It is one of the most common food allergies. Nicole Kidman, the Oscar winning actress is allergic to strawberries, a delicious fruit that most of us enjoy without any issues.
A food allergy is caused when the body wrongly identifies any specific ingredient in food as harmful. It then gears up to fight it with antibodies.The allergen is usually a protein and on initial exposure, the body creates specific disease fighting antibodies called immunoglobulin E or IgE. Eating the food again causes the release of these IgE antibodies and other chemicals like histamines. There might be a hereditary factor involved as such allergies are commonly seen in people whose family members also have allergies.
Histamine is a powerful chemical that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system. The symptoms of the allergic reaction vary depending on which place in the body is affected by the histamine. If it is released in the ears, nose and throat, the symptoms would include an itchy nose and mouth, or difficulty breathing or swallowing. If it is released in the skin, the outcome might be hives or a rash. If the histamine is released in the digestive tract, symptoms would include stomach pains, cramps or diarrhoea.
Thus, the symptoms of food allergies can include tingling or itching, hives, rashes, swelling of the face and other parts of the body, a runny nose, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, stomach pain and diarrhoea. In some cases, the allergic reaction can be quite severe and can lead to tightness in the chest, breathing difficulties, collapse, sudden drop in blood pressure and even death. This kind of severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis.
Common foods to which many people have allergies are soy, milk, peanuts, fish, eggs and shellfish.
Difference between food intolerance and food allergy
It can be a bit tricky to differentiate between the two conditions as the symptoms, especially those related to digestive discomfort can be quite similar.
- Food intolerance is more common than food allergies. It affects about 15-20% of the general population while food allergies affect about 1% of the adult population.
- A food intolerance is the response of the digestive system to the food that causes the problem while a food allergy is the result of a reaction of the immune system to a specific food.
- Food intolerance symptoms typically take longer to appear than symptoms of food allergy. An allergic reaction occurs within minutes of eating an allergy causing food.
- A food intolerance can cause discomfort but is never life threatening. A food allergy can be fatal.
- Those having a food intolerance might be able to eat small amounts of the food without any effect. Those having food allergies are unable to tolerate even small amounts of the allergy causing food as it can possibly trigger a severe allergic reaction.
- In the case of food intolerance, the severity of the symptoms is directly proportional to the amount of the food the person eats. For example, those having sensitivity to milk might be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills to aid the digestion process
- Bione specializes in wellness solutions that are meant to help you achieve optimal health. A test like the Bione DNA test is the best tool you can use to identify if you are sensitive to certain foods like dairy, gluten and wheat. It is a simple and quick test that can be taken at home. Based on the results of the test, our experts will work with you on making smarter food choices.
- You can also use an elimination diet to check if you are sensitive to particular foods. If you feel a lot better after removing suspect foods but start experiencing symptoms after reintroducing them into your diet, you are sensitive to the specific food. For example, if you remove milk or milk related products from your diet and experience cramps or indigestion after taking them again, you are probably lactose intolerant.
- Maintaining a food diary to track the days on which symptoms of digestive discomfort were noted can help with identifying trigger foods.
But unlike a DNA test, both these techniques are very much a process of trial and error and can be time-consuming. The Bione DNA test can serve as a roadmap to your wellness journey by giving you an idea of your nutritional requirements based on your unique genetic profile.
A food allergy can be diagnosed using a blood test or a skin prick test. The skin prick test involves placing a small amount of a specific food on a person’s forearm or back and then pricking the skin with a needle. The reaction of the skin can point to an allergy. The blood test assesses the levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. High levels of antibodies can be an indicator of an allergy.
People with food intolerances, however, are not affected badly unless they consume large amounts of the offending food or eat it on a frequent basis. Those having mild lactose intolerance, for example, might be able to drink coffee in milk though they cannot have plain milk.
Those having food sensitivities need to reduce their intake of problems or take corrective measures when they eat such foods. For example, they can take antacids to aid the digestive process when they eat such foods. They need to read food labels carefully when buying groceries and minimize such foods as far as possible
There is no cure for food allergies. People having food allergies need to be careful to completely avoid allergy inducing foods. Several new techniques have been tried out to overcome food allergies in recent years. One of them is oral immunotherapy which involves eating tiny amounts of an allergy-causing food and slowly increasing exposure to desensitize the body to the food. The ultimate goal is to gradually increase the amount of food that can be eaten before an allergic response is triggered.
In the case of another new technique called epicutaneous immunotherapy, the protein from the food is introduced into the body through a skin patch that is replaced on a daily basis. Both these techniques however need to be administered under the strict supervision of a qualified medical practitioner
In many cases, doctors might prescribe a small device called an auto-injector or an EpiPen that delivers an emergency shot of norepinephrine for self-treatment in the event of an allergic reaction.
What to do if you suspect food sensitivities or allergies?
A DNA test might be able to tell you if eating bread can give you indigestion or if coffee can interfere with your sleep patterns. Food allergy testing using a blood sample or a pinprick test can tell you if you are allergic to any specific foods.
These tests can make a lot of difference in your life if you are sensitive or allergic to specific foods. You need to be aware of any allergies or sensitivities so that you can make appropriate diet choices and safeguard your health. Read food labels carefully when shopping, check with the wait staff at the restaurant when dining out and be particularly careful in the case of children who have food allergies.