It seems like everyone these days is intolerant to something or other. YorkTest’s scientific director Dr Gill Hart clears up the confusion
Food intolerances often develop later in life. For this to happen, something has to have changed within your body; foods that are normally eaten without ill affect have become reactive. What could have happened? Well there are many reasons why a food intolerance can develop and the obvious place to start looking is the digestive system. Why? Well, our gut contains 70 percent of our immune system and is key to our overall health. Our gut lining acts as a second skin, a highly selective barrier that is in place to protect our internal environment; protecting us from harmful toxins, bacteria and incompletely digested foods, yet making sure that essential nutrients and digested foods are allowed into the bloodstream. This balance between an efficient passage of nutrients and the restriction of the entry of larger molecules, such as larger proteins, is critical. If the barrier fails, causing what is called ‘leaky gut’, this can lead to an increase in the passage of larger food particles, which can trigger an immune response, inflammation and food intolerance symptoms.
So what can cause the damage in the first place? Well there are many factors that can be involved. This could be anything from contracting a nasty infection, to the result of taking long-term antibiotics or the frequent use of painkillers. It could be the result of an unhealthy diet; high intakes of sugar, saturated fats and salt, processed and heavily refined foods, caffeine and alcohol. A poor diet combined with high levels of stress or anxiety can make the situation even worse. Of course genetics inevitably play a part too. If you eat too much of a food it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will give yourself an intolerance. People often eat a lot of particular types of foods and never become intolerant to them. We often find that it’s the foods that people least expect that they react to.
The symptoms of food intolerance are many and varied. They can range from digestive symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, to skin conditions such as eczema, acne, itchy skin and psoriasis. It can also show itself as migraines and headaches, joint pains and respiratory symptoms such as rhinitis, sinusitis and glue ear. Some people also report weight gain, low energy, chronic fatigue, low mood and depression. The difficulty is that it can take up to three days for symptoms of a food intolerance to present themselves. This makes it more difficult to pin point the culprit food or foods. Those coming to us at YorkTest who have food intolerance reactions, on average react to four or five different food ingredients and it is virtually impossible to determine which specific foods you are reacting to without taking a test. Everyone’s ‘food fingerprint’ is different. That means that everyone has their own unique list of reactive foods, and some people don’t have any at all. These reactions are more common than you may think and it’s important to remember that you could be intolerant to foods that we traditionally think of as being healthy, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses. A food which negatively affects one person will be completely fine for another and that’s why it’s important to take a food intolerance test. The good news is that a problem like this is not necessarily for life and foods can sometimes be tolerated again after a period of elimination.
Removing the foods that are causing a reaction gives the gut time to heal and can reduce the inflammation. We recommend that you remove your trigger foods for a minimum of 12 weeks to begin with. However it’s important to ensure that any nutrients you remove from your diet are replaced with suitable alternatives. For example, if someone discovers that they are intolerant to cow’s milk, then they should ensure they are still consuming the recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D, to ensure they don’t become deficient in these key nutrients. This is why we emphasise the importance of proper nutritional supervision when eliminating a food from your diet.
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