Mature Female doctor wearing face mask discussing with man patient at the hospital

How to live with Food Intolerances?

Approximately 9% of the population across the UK have at least one allergy or intolerance, which explains how common it can be to have a food intolerance.

A food intolerance is when an individual has difficulty digesting certain food or simply having an unpleasant physical reaction to them. These can range from a small reaction like feeling bloated and having tummy pain, or having a skin rash to having your face or airway swelling and having breathing difficulties.  The more severe reaction is classified as an anaphylaxis reaction and if you experience this at any time, call for an ambulance or go straight to A&E.  Most likely you’ll be diagnosed with an allergy to a specific food and be asked to carry an Epipen (an auto-injector device that delivers a dose of adrenaline to stop the allergic rection).  More often than not, you’ll experience a dodgy digestion system or feel lethargic, but it’s always important to seek immediate help if its anything serious.

How do I keep track on which food intolerances I may have developed?

There are some food intolerance tests that you get to participate in, however, they are not particularly accurate and the results often depend on if it’s a sample of blood or hair, as to the results you receive and if they are accurate. The British Dietary Association (BDA) don’t recommend it, but it may be worth trying to start of with so you at least have an area of food/drink to start from.

The best way (and cheapest) is to start a food diary.  It may seem a pain but trust us, it works.  One of the girls in our office kept on having allergic reaction/intolerances to foods and she couldn’t work out what it was.  She went to the pub every Friday night (obviously before Covid), and had different foods every week and yet was always ill Friday night/Saturday morning.  After speaking with our in-house therapist, he suggested to keep a food diary so she could track down the culprit. 

She did this for the first two weeks but she didn’t write down any sauces or drinks that she consumed.  It turned out that she was eating Mayonnaise with most of the meals she was reacting with.  And so developed her egg allergy (I kid you not!)…

For a food allergy, remember to: 

  • Record the food, drinks and sauces you have consumed
  • Note your reactions after eating those items
  • Be aware that if your body is having an allergic reaction (or an antihistamine response to something its intolerant to) it’s more likely to react to other foods you could be mildly intolerant to, and your sensitivity to other foods could be affected.

Ideally you’ll want to identify the culprit and remove it from your diet and allow your body and digestion system to calm down.  You can, providing you don’t have severe reactions or an anaphylactic reaction, add small amounts of the item that you’re intolerant to, and build up your resistance, but this can take many months to establish.

Be aware that there are lots of foods that you could be intolerant to and its not necessarily the main ones we hear in the media like nuts and wheat (coeliac).  Some can be everyday foods like eggs, celery, shellfish, fish, soya, mustard, molluscs & milk! While other processing ingredients can also have a reaction for example yeast, lactose & sulphites. And sometimes, one intolerance/allergy can make you susceptible to sensitivity on another type….so for example, our colleague identified an egg allergy and was then sensitive to all types of dairy food for the next 6 months.

She’s now got her body under the intolerance line and she’s able to eat eggs and most dairy now, and puts her improvement down to a daily spoonful of manuka honey, but that doesn’t work for everyone!

As with any condition that persists for 2 weeks or more, we recommend speaking with your GP if normal over the counter medication doesn’t calm your system down.  They may ask you to write a food diary, or to avoid certain foods, suggest a food intolerance test or run blood tests to check for key inflammation markers in your blood (for more serious conditions) or refer you to a specialist for further review.

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