Confused about Food Intolerance?

Confused about Food Intolerance?

There are plenty of companies going around at the moment offering food intolerance tests. With a growing market all you have to do is a google search to find plenty of options.  There are also plenty of testimonials of people including celebrates who claim to have seen dramatic improvements since eliminating intolerant foods. So what actually is food intolerance and how is it caused?

What is a food intolerance?

I want to define Food Intolerance as I see it as a nutritionist, as some of the leading search websites seem to be missing the mark somewhat, considering them to be a non-immune reaction. This may be the case sometimes, but it’s not what we are generally referring too. Some concentrated food substances like xylitol can cause diahorrea due to the body lacking sufficient enzymes to digest it, but over time the body will up-regulate its enzyme levels and the diahorrea will cease.  This not a true food intolerance as I see it. A food intolerance creates inflammation in the gut which leads to digestive problems as well as systemically affecting other areas of the body.

Food intolerance is a major cause of IBS symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramps, constipation and diahorrea. It also contributes to flare ups of auto-immune conditions such as arthritis (1) and ulcerative colitis (2) (3). Also, it has been implicated in weight gain (4) and mood disorders (5), in which inflammation is also a factor.

Intolerance is not the same as allergy.

Allergies, as opposed to intolerances, have always have been well understood for quite some time. They are acute and often the symptoms are dramatic. An example would be the classic nut allergy in which the throat swells. Or a person’s face turning red after eating lobster.  A type of antibody know as IgE can be measured in the blood which marks the allergy.  By contrast food intolerance can be harder to pinpoint as it may have a delayed onset. Also it’s not so dramatic and tests are not always completely accurate.

There was a time when the medical establishment called food intolerances ‘pseudo-allergic reactions’. They no had no idea what was behind the reactions and could not detect the usual IgE antibodies.  It’s for this reason that orthodox medicine has been somewhat reluctant to deal with intolerances head on, even though they are on the rise (6).

Enter Leaky Gut….

We can’t really talk about Food Intolerance without talking about Leaky Gut as the two go hand in hand. One propagates the other in a downward spiral of ill health. Leaky gut happens when, due to inflammation, the tight junctions between the cells of the gut become loose allowing undigested particles of food to enter the body.

The immune system starts to see these particles as foreign invaders and mounts a response, characterised by an increase in Immune Cell activity and IgG antibodies (7). White blood cells respond to undigested food particles that cross the gut barrier as if they were invaders. This sets off an inflammatory response which makes the gut even leakier. This in turn allows more undigested foods access to the body and so the cycle continues.

Initially there may be intolerance to one or two foods, but over time more and more foods can be added to the list. The sufferer may find that they become intolerant to their favourite foods as these are the ones their immune system is most exposed to. Such is the curse of food intolerance and leaky gut. It’s a downward spiral.

I usually find clients that come to me are often quite aware of which foods are causing them trouble (8). They may have even been off these foods for very long periods of time but to no avail. This is why it’s so important to heal the leaky gut as well as simply avoid the problematic foods.

What to do about Food Intolerance.

The good news is that as you heal your gut barrier and restore your digestive health, you become less intolerant to various foods, as undigested food particles can no longer cross the gut wall. As gut function improves, tolerance goes up.

I had a little rant into a camera before I wrote this blog about food intolerances and what you can do to start improving your condition if your suffering with them. You can check that out in the video below.

If you have any questions, just pop them into the comments section below. You can also reach out and talk to me at my online clinic.

Also, if you’ve have food intolerance problems I’d be keen to hear your story too.


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Ciaran Ryan

Nutritional Therapist at International Clinic of Nutrition
Dedicated to the pursuit of natural and lifestyle medicine, Ciaran is a qualified Nutritional Therapist. When not being a nerd about health and biochemistry Ciaran likes to go dancing and enjoys watching Japanese cartoons (a little too much).
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Christina Grace

3 years ago

Hi I am battling endometriosis diverticulitis and candida fatigued daily still can’t get food diet right what can I do its really getting to me I’ve no energy or quality of life anymore

Ciaran Ryan

3 years ago

Endometriosis can be caused high levels of estrogen. Gut bacteria can put discarded estrogen back into circulation with an called beta-glucoronadase. So there is a link! Calcium d-glucarate can be used to prevent this form happening along with healing the gut and helping the friendly colonies of gut bacteria.

Sarah Greene

3 years ago

Hi Ciaran
I have just read your article and I can identify with it. I seem to have developed an intolerance to mushrooms everytime I eat them I get dreadful spamming and need to get to a loo immediately!! I am sure there are other foods that I have an intolerance for, I am constantly bloated and I find it difficult to loose any weight!! how can I make my gut healthy again?
I would be grateful for any advice.

Ciaran Ryan

3 years ago

Hi Sarah,

Food intolerances can be a source of excess weight, but so can unhealthy gut flora! The two often go hand in hand and can be a source of bloating. Unfriendly microbes can release toxins which make the gut leakier which increases the likelihood of developing food intolerance. You need to discover and remove all food intolerances and pro-inflammatory foods, remove any offending micro-organisms, rebuild colonies of healthy bacteria and nurture the gut to promote healing. It’s not that difficult but it does take 8-12 weeks and knowing what your up against.

If you like help with this, please do contact me though my ‘online clinic’ in the navigation bar above.


donna mclean

3 years ago

hi ive suffered gut problems for years had hsysterectomy but still in pain daily constipateted bloated tired no energy stabbing pains ivd tried everything for five years quality of life is none always in bed they say i have ibs spastic colon and diverticulites what can i do help

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