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Friday, September 25, 2020

Food Intolerance: Causes, Symptoms and Types

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Food intolerance is known as non-IgE mediated food hypersensitive or non-allergic food hypersensitive. It refers to the difficulty in digesting food or a particular food. In most cases, it is usually confused with food allergy.

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Unlike an allergy, food intolerance is not life-threatening but could be problematic for people affected if it’s not looked into. Food intolerance is widespread these days as its estimated that about 20% of the world’s population may have food Intolerance.

Diagnosing food intolerance is usually difficult because its symptoms are generally wide in range and mostly overlaps with food allergy.

It is crucial to note that food allergy triggers the immune system, while food intolerance doesn’t; the food that is commonly associated with food intolerance is usually a dairy product, grains that obtain Gluten, beans, and cabbage, etc.

This article would try to highlight most of the common types of food sensitivity and intolerable, their related symptoms, and the food to avoid.

What Is Food Intolerance

The word food hypersensitivity usually refers to both food intolerance and food allergy, though they are not the same, yet they share common symptoms.

Some times it can be so difficult to tell them apart, so we strongly advise you speak with a doctor if you feel you are coming down with any food-related symptoms.

When someone has food intolerance symptoms, it usually begins a couple of hours after eating the food they are intolerant to. This might not usually be the case as sometimes symptoms can be delayed up to 48 hours before manifestation, making it difficult to know which food is causing the intolerance.

If the person frequently consumes food that he or she feels intolerant to, this would make it difficult to relate the symptoms to a particular food.

These symptoms of food intolerance indeed vary; they usually involve the digestive system, respiratory system, and skin-related symptoms.

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Some of its symptoms are listed below

  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Runny nose
  • Reflux
  • Diarrhoea
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Rashes

Usually, food intolerance is diagnosed through the aid of elimination diets that are designed to pinpoint the offending food or through other means and methods.

Elimination Diet; What this means is that food that is commonly associated with intolerance for some time before symptoms subsidies are removed, while foods are then reintroduced one at a time while the symptoms are being monitored.

This process or method helps people know which food is causing the symptoms and how to avoid it.

Below is the list of some food Intolerance

1. Diary

The sugar that is found in milk is known as lactose. An enzyme called lactase is responsible for the breaking down of lactose in the body before it can be properly digested and absorbed into the body.

Lactose intolerance is caused by the shortage of the lactase enzyme, as mentioned above, which makes it difficult to digest lactose and invariably leads to digestive symptoms.

Some lactose symptoms include

  • Abdominal pain
  • Gas
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Bloating

Lactose intolerance is seen as one of the most common Food intolerance; it’s so common that about 65% of the world population has problems digesting lactose. It can be diagnosed lactose tolerance test, PH test, lactose breath test, or stool.

2. Gluten

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There specific types of proteins that are found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale; these proteins are generally referred to as Gluten. Some of the condition that relates to Gluten is celiac diseases, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy.

If someone with celiac disease gets exposed to Gluten, their immune system attacks the small intestine, and this can cause serious damages to them.

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Wheat allergy is often confused with celiac disease owing to the act that they both have similar symptoms.

Their major difference is that celiac disease is caused by an abdominal immune reaction to Gluten in particular, while wheat allergy generates an allergy-producing antibody to proteins in wheat.

Regardless many people still feel unpleasant symptoms even after testing negative to celiac or wheat allergy. This is known as Gluten sensitivity.

Gluten sensitivity: it is a milder form of gluten intolerance which has been estimated to impact from 0.5 to 13% of the world’s population, its symptoms includes

  • Abdominal pain
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea or Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Skin rash
  • Joint pain
  • Depression of anxiety

A method called a Gluten-free diet is applied to manage both celiac and nonceliac diseases. It involves staying away from food that contains Gluten which includes

  • Bread
  • Beer
  • Baked goods
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Sauces, dressing, and gravies

3. Caffeine

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Caffeine is a bitter chemical that is found in a variety of the beverages we consume in our everyday activities like coffee, soda, tea, energy drink. Caffeine is said to b a stimulant that helps to reduce fatigue and increase alertness when taken.

Most people can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine daily, while some people are highly sensitive to caffeine and experience reaction after consuming a little amount of it. This has been linked to genetics and their inability to excrete and metabolize caffeine.

People with hypersensitivity to caffeine might experience the following symptoms even if it was just a little caffeine that was ingested

  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Jitters
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness

It is advised that people that are sensitive to caffeine should avoid food or drinks with caffeine in it.

4. Salicylates

This is a chemical that is produced by plants as a defence mechanism against insects and other environmental stressors. This chemical is found in a variety of food, spices, nuts, coffee, and honey.

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Its usage is highly important, as it is also used as a means of preservatives and could be found in medications.

Most people might not have a problem taking a huge amount of Salicylate. However, it could pose a huge threat to others.

Its symptoms include;

  • Sinus infection
  • Stuffy nose
  • Hives
  • Diarrhoea
  • Asthma
  • Nasal and sinus polyps
  • Guts inflammation(colitis)

It might be impossible to remove Salicylate from our daily food altogether. Yet, those who are Salicylate intolerance should try and much as they can to avoid food that is high in Salicylate.

5. Amines

Amines are produced by bacteria in the process of food storage and fermentation and are found in a variety of food are widely consumed.

The most common type of Amines is Histamine, which is commonly associated with food intolerance.  Histamine is a chemical that is known to play various roles in the digestive, immune, and nervous system.

It protects the body against infections by creating an immediate inflammation response to allergies. This often triggers sneezing, watery eyes, and itching.

Some people are not able to adequately break down Histamine in their body, causing it to build up In their body.

Some of its symptoms include;

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Headaches
  • Hives
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood sugar
  • Stomach cramp
  • Itching

People with an intolerance to Histamine should try to avoid food high in these natural chemicals

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  • Avocados
  • Citrus fruits
  • Vinegar
  • Smoked fish
  • Cured meat
  • Fermented foods
  • Aged cheese
  • Soured food like buttermilk
  • Fermented alcoholic beverages

6. Sulfites

These are chemicals that are used In preservatives in foods, drinks, and some medicine. They could also be found in foods like grapes and aged cheese

Most people can tolerate sulfites, whiles some are highly sensitive to these chemicals, and it’s most common with people asthma.

Its symptoms include;

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Hives
  • Diarrhoea
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Hypotension
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing

Example of food to avoid include;

  • Dried fruit
  • Wine
  • Apple cider
  • Pickled foods
  • Potato chips
  • Beer
  • Baked goods
  • Tea
  • Condiments

7. Other Common Food Intolerance

The above is just a few of the most common intolerance type of food, though there is still some food that still brings discomfort to people, and it would be explained below.

  • Egg: Some people find it difficult to digesting egg whites, though they might not be allergic to eggs and it’s associated with symptoms like Diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Aspartmine: This is an artificial sweetener that is commonly used as a substitute for sugar. Some of its symptoms may include irritability and depression.
  • Sugar Alcohols: This can cause major digestive issues for people, including bloating and Diarrhea.


  • Systematic review: noncoeliac gluten sensitivity; Pubmed
Food Intolerance
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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.
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