What is food intolerance?
It is the name we give any adverse reaction to a food or food additive that is not due to an allergy. Food intolerance is the body’s reaction to various chemicals in food such that an adverse reaction occurs. Reactions occur in a variety of parts of the body. We can say that food sensitivity is a multisystem disorder. This means that the symptoms can occur in any of the body systems: whether the skin, the lungs, the digestive system or others. Target organ sensitivity is the way we describe which organ is targeted for sensitivity in a particular person. One person may have a sensitive brain and have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], migraine or headaches, another may have sensitive skin with eczema and yet another sensitive gut with colic, tummy aches or irritable bowel syndrome [IBS]. You can read more about these in the other articles on this site.
Food sensitive people are those whose various symptoms improve when they use a diet reducing a group of suspect food chemicals which include food additive colour, flavour, most preservatives, natural salicylates and amines, and natural and added monosodium glutamate, as well as smells. There is some variation in just which of these suspect chemicals each food sensitive person reacts to. We call this target substance sensitivity. Some are sensitive to whole foods such as milk or wheat as well. With the help of the Diet Detective Method outlined in Are You Food Sensitive? you can gradually design your own diet. If you can access an Accredited Practicing Dietitian with a special interest in this area you can add professional help so you are not working on your own.
Are food sensitivity symptoms and problem behaviours all due to food intolerance? No; some of these have other medical causes, while for others the causal mechanism remains unknown. Do some people with adverse reaction symptoms have food intolerance? Yes! Unfortunately there is no test that shows who is food sensitive or what food chemicals they cannot tolerate. It is important to realise that that does not mean you cannot find out. It means you can do what I call “Diet Detective Work” to find out just what foods are a problem for you. Each person is different. Using the Diet Detective Method you also learn what you may have been excluding that you did not need to, and how to test foods carefully for tolerance so your personal diet can be as broad as possible.
Usually each person who suspects they have food intolerance has seen their symptoms come on or worsen after particular foods even if it is not consistent. The foods one person may suspect are often different from those suspected in other food sensitive people. What is now known from carefully collected information from many families using diet, is that it is wise to begin investigation by excluding all the known suspect chemicals as each person has their own intolerances regardless of their symptoms. Just excluding additives or chocolate is unlikely to get you the maximum benefit that diet can give.
Before concentrating on diet investigation it is important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Your doctor will be concerned that there may be medical reason for your symptoms. Because there are no tests for food intolerance, and not everyone responds to diet therapy, she may not wish to talk about diet when you first consider it. However when the medical tests have shown there are no medical problems but your distressing symptoms still need care, you may wish to talk about diet. Diet is a natural cure so it does not have any unforseen side effects or complicate any medication you may already need to have.
Food intolerance often runs in families. One grandparent may have IBS, a parent may have migraine, one child may have ADHD, another eczema and the baby colic or hives. When first investigating diet it is important to fill out the Family Sensitivity History which shows all the food intolerant symptoms present in different members. This Diet Detective idea helps families see that a symptom that they wish to investigate with diet is connected to other symptoms, and that different family members may all investigate diet in relation to their particular symptoms. If the grandparent reacts to spice, the parent to chocolate, one child reacts to additives and another fruit juice then this information, with all the usual known suspect chemicals, can form the Family Elimination Diet for that family when they want to investigate the baby’s colic.
There are less well known symptoms that are also reported to respond to diet in families that have food intolerance. These include lethargy, or fatigue [we could call this hypoactivity], mood changes, mouth ulcers, car sickness, fuzzy thinking, vivid dreams, nightmares and others.
It is interesting that symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime. One mother said
“It is great to understand that my diarrhoea with milk in infancy, my headaches in my teens, especially when I ate away from home, and my IBS are all connected, and connected to the other symptoms my family has. It now all makes sense!”
An overall idea to remember is that food chemicals aggravate the underlying disorder, regardless of what it is, in susceptible people.
Whether you have the most recognised food symptoms or some of the less usual but still annoying ones you can investigate them and see if diet has a role and how much it changes for you. Are You Food Sensitive? helps you investigate food intolerance. It also includes information on such aspects as cravings, how long the diet takes to work, changes in tolerance with cooking, and why liked foods may contribute to your symptoms.