Many people suffer from the same unexplainable and recurring symptoms:
- Digestive problems such as constipation, flatulence
- Skin conditions such as acne
- Mood swings
- Sinus issues
- Weight gain/difficulty losing weight
- Muscle and joint pain
These symptoms do not appear to be resolved with conventional medicine, or the medicine is simply masking the symptoms without treating the root of problems. There could be another reason for their persistence – a food intolerance.
A food intolerance is different from a food allergy. A food allergy causes a specific and immediate immune response whereby the body interprets the food as harmful, and thus produces IgE antibodies to combat the food. Histamines and other chemicals are released which can result in skin rashes or hives, breathing difficulties, swelling of the tongue and throat, anaphylactic shock, runny nose or abdominal pain. One of the most common allergens are peanuts, and if you are allergic to a particular food you must avoid the food at all costs.
A food intolerance however is caused by the body producing IgG antibodies in response to the offending food item. This produces a chronic inflammatory response resulting in damage to cells and tissues and the symptoms as described above. If you think about it, many chronic health conditions can be attributed to inflammation:
- Migraines – inflammation of the blood vessels
- Arthritis – inflammation of the joints
- IBS – inflammation of the stomach and bowels which causes digestive disturbances.
As the symptoms tend to be delayed (they appear anywhere from a few hours to a week) and can present a combination of symptoms it can be difficult to identify what the offending item is or even see the link between food consumption and symptoms.
What you can do about it
If you have been suffering from any of the above symptoms then you may have a food intolerance. The following guide should help you overcome your symptoms.
1. Identify your trigger foods
The most important thing to do is identify the trigger foods that are causing the inflammation. One way is to conduct an elimination diet of the suspected offending foods or the most common offending foods (wheat, dairy, soy, additives, preservatives) for 7-14 days. Once this has been completed you then introduce them back into your diet one at a time whilst noting down the symptoms.
Food intolerance testing however can be a much quicker and more accurate method of identifying possible trigger foods, and if you suspect you have a food intolerance this is the route I suggest you take. See here for further details.
2. Look for other hidden causes and address these
Identifying food intolerances can be a tricky one as they can arise for a number and combination of different factors:
- A genuine intolerance where your body produces an inflammatory response
- A digestive enzyme deficiency – Digestive enzymes are required to break down the food we eat into smaller components that the body is then able to use and absorb. Some people either lack the digestive enzyme(s) or do not have them in sufficient quantities. This can lead to incomplete digestion resulting in symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence.
A common intolerance is a lactose intolerance whereby the sufferers do not have sufficient quantities of the enzyme lactase to break down lactose – the sugar found in milk products into smaller quantities that can then be absorbed by the gut. Undigested lactose is too large to be absorbed from the gut and its presence causes abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhoea.
- Imbalanced gut bacteria – a healthy balance of ‘good’ bacteria is required to keep the digestive system healthy. Any imbalance (caused by excess sugar intake, stress and inadequate nutrients to support the growth of good bacteria) in this can cause digestive disturbances. Consuming natural live yoghurt and taking a good quality probiotic will help.
Inflammatory foods to avoid:
Refined sugar (cakes, biscuits, white bread and pasta), caffeine, plant oils (sunflower, corn, peanut, soya) and trans fats found in packaged foods, processed meats (bacon, sausages) may all increase the potential for inflammation in the body.
Anti-inflammatory foods to consume
Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, monounsaturated fats in avocados, nuts and olive oil all contain anti-inflammatory properties so aim for 3 portions a week. Green leafy vegetables, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, oats and garlic are all extremely beneficial too.