If you feel belly pain, intense fatigue, or get a wicked headache after eating certain foods, you might have a food intolerance, also called a food sensitivity. A food intolerance happens when your body reacts negatively to a certain food, but it doesn't mean that you’re actually allergic to it. This is a key distinction, because food intolerances can make you sick and miserable, but they don’t pose the same immediate threat as food allergies. Food allergies involve the immune system (specifically IgE antibodies), and can lead to serious or even life-threatening reactions. Food sensitivities can also affect the immune system, but not the part of your immune system that triggers true allergies. Neither are fun to deal with, but it’s important to know the difference! So, what’s the reason for food intolerances? They can be caused by the absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food, or a sensitivity to the food itself. They can also be related to a compromised or weakened digestive system. Getting to a diagnosis requires a bit of detective work, because you can be intolerant to lots of foods. To make things even murkier, the symptoms—bloating, gas, belly pain, diarrhea, headaches, and migraines—are already pretty familiar to anyone living with an invisible illness. If you suspect a food sensitivity, try eliminating the offending foods to see if you start to feel better. This is more challenging than it sounds, because the list of trigger foods—those that contain lactose, wheat, gluten, histamines (found in pickled and cured foods), and artificial sweeteners or additives—is long! Working with a nutritionist can help you identify the culprits, get them out of your diet, make sure you don't risk nutrient depletion, and get your digestive system back to its happy place. You might also want to seek out a practitioner who can who practices kinesiology to test your muscles for food sensitivities (see, it really is all connected!). It’s not easy to make dietary changes at first (especially if you’re cutting out foods you enjoy, minus the side effects), but it’s definitely worth it to feel better!
- The Institute for Functional Medicine. Heal the Gut with the IFM Elimination Diet. The Institute for Functional Medicine. Heal the Gut with the IFM Elimination Diet.
- Safe Food. Allergy or intolerance? Safe Food. Allergy or intolerance?
- Mayo Clinic. Food Allergy. Mayo Clinic. Food Allergy.
- Mayo Clinic. Food sensitivities may affect gut barrier function. Mayo Clinic. Food sensitivities may affect gut barrier function.
- Dtsch Arztebl Int. The Differential Diagnosis of Food Intolerance. Dtsch Arztebl Int. The Differential Diagnosis of Food Intolerance.