Food intolerance is incredibly common, where it’s estimated that one in five people are sensitive to certain edible items. Unlike food allergies, food intolerance isn’t life-threatening, but the symptoms can still cause untold misery and discomfort.
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If you suffer from a food intolerance, essentially, your digestive system isn’t happy with what you’ve given it. Most food intolerance symptoms display as digestive upsets, such as gas, bloating, stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhoea, and they usually present several hours or more after the bothersome food has been consumed.
Aside from tummy woes, food intolerance signs can manifest in other, more surprising ways.
If you frequently experience a blocked or drippy nose, excess mucus or a cough that’s not related to having a cold, an intolerance to a certain food item (often dairy) could be to blame. This occurs as excess stomach acid is produced to digest the troublesome food item, often causing reflux, which then triggers the production of extra nasal mucus.
Feeling tired even when you’ve slept well could be a sign that your body is sensitive to a certain food. Extra energy is required by the immune system to get rid of the offending food item from your body, making you feel lethargic in the process.
When your digestive system can’t cope with certain food items, extra chemicals flood the body leading to inflammation. This inflammation can affect the skin, the body’s largest organ, resulting in rashes, acne, blotches, flushing, swelling and itchiness.
Commonly, the skin condition dermatitis herpetiformis is associated with food intolerance, especially towards gluten. Certain food colourings have also been known to cause skin problems in people with an intolerance.
Inflammation in the body from a food intolerance can also lead to headaches and migraines. In particular, the flavour enhancer, MSG, often found in Chinese dishes, can trigger headaches. MSG is also associated with chest pain and hives in those with a sensitivity.
Mental health issues
What you eat can even have an impact on your mental health, where food intolerance can cause symptoms such as anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Inflammation that manifests from the body dealing with a food it can’t tolerate can send levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, plummeting. Low levels of serotonin are thought to negatively impact our mood and mental health. Studies have shown that the sugar substitute, aspartame, can make some people with a sensitivity feel irritable or low.
Aches and pains in your joints and muscles might be more than overdoing it at the gym, or signs of aging. They could be related to something you’ve eaten that has sent inflammation levels soaring in your body. Common culprits include dairy, gluten and sugar. In fact, if you suffer from the joint condition fibromyalgia, it’s thought that certain foods exacerbate this illness half the time.
If you suspect you have a food intolerance, discuss your symptoms with your GP in order to rule out other conditions. It’s not always easy trying to identify what’s causing your symptoms but keeping a food diary and following an elimination diet can help to suss out the rogue food culprits. Common offenders include dairy, gluten, sugar, caffeine, yeast, eggs and chemicals or colouring added to foods. In some cases, a food intolerance can suddenly develop to something you’ve been able to happily tolerate in the past.