Food Intolerance Symptoms: What You Need To Know

Food intolerance isn’t as severe as a food allergy, but there is still the risk of getting sick when you eat the food so you should treat it as such.

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How to deal with food intolerance. PHOTO via @Inspire Fitness

If you’re experiencing food intolerance reactions, it’s best to limit exposure to those foods whenever possible and speak with a doctor about which tests are available in your area to pinpoint ingredients causing reactions.

It’s also important to know that reactions can vary from person to person. One person may have a reaction that’s limited to digestive symptoms, while another might experience respiratory symptoms.

The severity of food intolerance can also vary among individuals, with some experiencing mild symptoms, such as gas and bloating, and others experiencing severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of food intolerance

Before going into testing, here are some symptoms of food intolerance.

If you suspect food intolerance to gluten, there are multiple ways you can test for it. There’s a test that requires the elimination of gluten for 14 days. This is the only test that will show if your body is suffering from Celiac Disease or Gluten Sensitivity.

If you’d like to try this test, feel free; but I am not recommending it because there are so many other reasons to avoid gluten – including the fact that most of us grew up eating foods with white flour and we never knew any different.

This article is about going from gluten and wheat allergies. Once you remove those things you will feel a lot better.

If you’d like to try an elimination diet, go for it. If it makes sense to your situation, give it a shot. I personally tried eliminating foods like corn and dairy for two weeks when I was 7 years old to see if my symptoms would change. They did not, but I felt pretty good the whole time even though I was eating sugar and chocolate – so maybe at least in my case, it worked.

A lot of people ask me what they should do if they don’t have money or insurance to do testing:

Get started right away on the Paleo diet. It’s free.

You may just need to experiment. Try removing gluten for 14 days to see if it helps, then reintroduces it in small amounts. Try to limit the high-carb foods – what I call the ‘wheat belly’ foods.

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If you are having symptoms and you feel like you may have a food intolerance, then the most important thing is to remove those foods from your diet for a couple weeks and see how you feel.

A lot of people report quickly changing their skin issues (eczema or acne) when they remove dairy, corn and wheat products from their diet. I believe this is because these foods are known to cause inflammation in the body.

The most important way to prevent food intolerance is to eat a Paleo diet which eliminates all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and sugar.

Food tolerance testing

The idea of food intolerance/sensitivity testing is based on the notion that some people are intolerant to certain specific foods, and others can tolerate them. Traditional allergy testing measures IgE antibodies.

The standard test for IgE-based allergy is a radioallergosorbent test (RAST), in which blood drawn at a clinic is exposed to radioactively labelled food proteins or fragments.

However, there are drawbacks of this method:

  1. This test is not available in many countries.
  2. A negative RAST does not necessarily mean that you are not allergic to the food tested, since people who are allergic may have undetectable levels of IgE antibodies, or may be allergic to other foods with which the food under question is associated.
  3. This test cannot be used to determine if you’re sensitive to a specific food, in particular, it cannot identify food as causing cross-reactivity (e.g., peanut allergy-causing an adverse reaction to tree nuts).
  4. There is no data available on the relationship between functional antibody-mediated allergies and gluten intolerance among celiac patients.

The most reliable measure of food intolerance is testing for the various intolerant antibodies (e.g., IgG, IgA, and IgM) that are produced by the immune system in response to certain foods. These antibodies are linked with adverse effects and illness.

The test called ImmunoCAP measures the amount of specific immunoglobulin G antibodies in your blood and identifies possible problems by measuring positive reactions against foods such as gluten, dairy products, eggs and soybeans.

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It is recommended that you take this screening test before embarking on an elimination diet and should be done under medical supervision only.

If you suspect gluten intolerance or sensitivity it’s best to stay away from wheat, corn and dairy products. If you’re gluten intolerant, you may want to try testing for IgG antibodies as well as IgE – even if you don’t have the classic symptoms of an allergy.

If your body is reacting to foods, it may not be reacting with IgE but with another type of antibody. I personally have taken this test and I was allergic to eggs and gluten – having an immune reaction that did NOT require antibodies.

A book called Food Allergy Testing is a good reference for food sensitivity tests done outside of the medical establishment. Dr Uffe Ravnskov mentions the most sensitive and reliable tests:

  1. Cytotoxic testing, which measures cell death at given concentrations of various foods
  2. Specific antibodies which measure the levels of IgG, IgA and IgE against specific foods or food substances (e.g. to wheat, soy, peanuts and other legumes)
  3. Radioallergen/IgE testing
  4. Immunochemical testing
  5. ImmunoCAP

The advantage of this test is that it can be done at home by professionals who have access to the test results in less than a week. The disadvantage is that this test cannot determine if you are sensitive to a specific food or not (in particular it cannot identify the food as causing cross-reactivity), and it may be expensive and not available in some countries.

If you suspect gluten intolerance or sensitivity, here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Fatigue Brain “fog” Inflammation and swelling of the joints and muscles
  • Depression or other mood disorders
  • Weight gain Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, gas or alternating bowel habits
  • Skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis or acne
  • Headaches Mood swings
  • Neurological problems including numbness and tingling.

The bottom line is that there are no diagnostic tests for gluten intolerance.

The only way to determine if you are sensitive to gluten is by eliminating it from your diet and then reintroducing it. If you notice an improvement in your symptoms, it’s very likely that you suffer from gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

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Your body is trying to tell you something. Be proactive and do everything you can to force it to heal itself. No one knows your body better than you do! It’s time to get serious about your health.

FAQs: Food intolerance

Do I need an allergy doctor?

Yes. Food intolerance isn’t as severe as a food allergy, but there is still the risk of getting sick when you eat the food so you should treat it as such. If you experience any symptoms after eating something, speak with your doctor to get a proper checkup.

Should I get an allergy test?

Yes. Food allergies are tested quite differently than blood tests which analyze IgE reactions to allergens. These kinds of food intolerance reactions may cause swelling and irritation in the skin, bloating, gas and diarrhoea.

What kind of symptoms do I get when I have a food intolerance?

Depending on the allergen, you may experience different symptoms depending on where it’s being processed by your body. Some common intolerance reactions include bloating, gas, diarrhoea, heartburn and skin irritation.

What kind of symptoms should I expect?

If you have a food intolerance, you may notice that your skin gets redder or turns blotchy after eating the food. You may also experience pain in the abdomen and develop a headache.

How can I avoid these reactions?

It is best to speak with an allergy doctor who will be able to tell you if certain foods are causing your symptoms and make recommendations for testing those foods out.

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