Reactions to Food: Allergy or Food Intolerance?

Gluten, Lactose and Fructose Intolerances – Complex and difficult subjects

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, ADHD, Autism, Allergies and many other chronic health problems can be caused by underlying intolerances to food. It is a fact that there is an increase of illnesses and health issues that is definitively linked to food. More and more you can find gluten or lactose free products in the stores and you can hear from friends that they are on a “gluten free diet”. If you have an ongoing health problem, for which you have not found a solution, you would be wise to explore food intolerance.

Is it Intolerance or Allergy?

Food reactions are common, but most are caused by food intolerance rather than an allergy. People often confuse the two. Even though some of the reactions are similar, food allergies are less common and the symptoms are generally more severe. In case of an allergy even a tiny amount of food can cause reactions, skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, respiratory congestion and swellings and even death. If you have a food allergy, you have to avoid the offending food entirely. Food allergies can be checked by certain lab tests (intra-dermal test) or ELISA (blood test).

Food intolerance symptoms come on gradually and don’t involve an immune system reaction. Symptoms are usually very unspecific. Digestive problems, IBS, bloating, tiredness, or “allergy like” symptoms, joint and muscle pain, nervous and emotional distress and in general “not feeling good”. The intake of food that the body does not tolerate causes constant stress to the system and the more the person has to deal with other negative factors in life, for example emotional stress, environment or chemical exposure, unhealthy diet, the less the body can handle these conflicts and symptoms occur.

Lab tests for intolerances are not completely reliable and often unknown to medical doctors. The causes of intolerances are the absence of enzymes or of other chemical components in the body, to fully digest the food. Certain amounts of the food can still be tolerated and after a time of avoiding this food it is possible to re-introduce small amounts without causing problems.

Lactose intolerance is a good example, where the body cannot digest milk sugar (lactose). Lactose intolerance is wide spread over the world, in Nord America and Europe between 30 and 40 % and amongst the Asian race even up to 90 %. The missing enzyme is lactase. Undigested milk sugar leads to an over grow of unhealthy bacteria, a reduction of the ph, and results in an irritation of the mucous membrane. Bloating, diarrhea and nausea are some of the most common symptoms. Lactase Enzyme tablets can help these people.

Lactose intolerance has to be distinguished from the allergy to the milk protein casein, in which the enzyme supplementation does not help.

Gluten Intolerance

This is the most common and most frequent form of food intolerance and affects an average of about 30 % of our western population. Gluten is a protein found in grains as wheat, rye, spelt and oats. Gluten free foods for example are rice, amaranth, buckwheat, tapioca, millet, corn and with exceptions quinoa.

The symptoms of gluten intolerance are usually unspecific and can range between mild digestive problems to severe general health problems. Celiac disease is a specific, severe form of gluten sensitivity, where the small intestines have been damaged.

Overall, it’s evident that a high percentage of the population has some sort of food intolerance. I recommend to everybody who has to deal with chronic health problems, allergies or weight problems that are not controllable by ”eating less” to consider an underlying intolerance to food. Very often it is exactly the food we like the most, and is the hardest to avoid.

Find more on this topic in our next issue.

For more information contact:

Barbara Rotthaler,
German certified Naturopath
Sta. Isabel 240,
Riberas del Pilar
Telephone (376) 108-0444

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