Food Intolerances

What is a Food Intolerance?

It can be really confusing trying to figure out if you have a food or a food intolerance. Just like food allergy, food intolerance is an abnormal response of your system to particular foods. Unlike food allergies which are caused by an overactive immune system, food intolerance is caused by irritation of the digestive system. It occurs when your body cannot breakdown or digest a food that you have eaten.

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What are the Most Common Food Intolerances?

In children, the most common food intolerances are:

  1. Cow’s Milk Intolerance
  2. Soy Intolerance

In adults, the most common food intolerances are:

  1. Lactose Intolerance
  2. Gluten Intolerance

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Do I have a Food Intolerance?

It can be really confusing trying to figure out if you have a food allergy or a food intolerance. Just like food allergy, food intolerance is an abnormal response of your system to particular foods.
Unlike food allergies which are caused by an overactive immune system, food intolerance is caused by irritation of the digestive system. It occurs when your body cannot breakdown or digest a food that you have eaten.

The most common symptoms of food intolerance are:

Stomach problems:

  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach aches
  • Gas
  • Cramps
  • Bloating

Other:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability or Fussiness (in kids)

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How is Food Intolerance Diagnosed?

There are several important components to diagnosing food intolerance:

1. History – your doctor will ask for detailed information about your symptoms.

  • When was the food eaten?
  • How long after the food was eaten did the reaction happen?
  • What kind of reaction did you have?
  • How long did it last?
  • What made it go away?
  • Did anyone else get sick?
  • Were there any other foods or medicines that were eaten or taken around the same time?

2. Keep a diary – sometimes your doctor will ask you to put together a diary of what you eat and your reactions to it. This should include answers to the questions above. A food diary is especially helpful when multiple foods could be causing your symptoms.

3. Elimination diet – some doctors will ask you to exclude the food that may be causing your symptoms for some period of time. If the symptoms go away, this might be a sign of food intolerance. If eliminating the food makes your symptoms go away, your doctor may ask you to reintroduce that food. If your symptoms return, you may in fact have a food intolerance.

4. Blood tests – There are no specific blood tests for food intolerance. However, if you have gluten intolerance and celiac disease is suspected, your doctor may order specific blood work that will help in diagnosing the disease. Celiac disease is confirmed with examination and biopsy of the small intestine.

5. Hydrogen breath test – Lactose intolerance is diagnosed by a breath test that measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath. A baseline sample of the hydrogen in your breath is taken. Then you are given samples of lactose and your breath is retested over several hours. If there is a sharp rise in the concentration of hydrogen, you are probably lactose intolerant.

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What is the Treatment for Food Intolerance?

The main treatment for food intolerances is avoiding that food.

Unfortunately, there are no other methods for treating gluten intolerance.
However, if your gluten intolerance is not severe, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of foods with gluten.

Some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate lactose by adding lactase (an enzyme that breaks down the lactose) to the foods with lactose that they would like to eat.

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