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Food Intolerance and Bloating

Posted 6 years ago by Brendan

Many of those with problems like persistent bloating, suspect their digestive complaints may be adverse reactions to foods. While true food allergies aren’t particularly common, there's a fairly good chance bloating associated with ongoing indigestion, flatulence, cramps or changes in bowel habits, may be causally connected with the body reacting poorly when certain foods are eaten.

Allergy or Intolerance

A classical food allergy is characterised by a sudden reaction that generally develops upon or soon after exposure to reactive food particles (antigens). This type of allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system recognises certain foods as harmful. After eating (or in some cases even touching or inhaling reactive food), specific IgE antibodies respond to the presence of antigenic material (perceived dangers) by triggering the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals into the tissues. Manifestations of this immune response can vary considerably with symptoms ranging from skin irritation and rashes to breathing difficulties and anaphylactic shock. The most common instances of IgE mediated food allergy are to nuts, shellfish, fish, cow’s milk, egg and wheat flour. This type of allergy often runs in families and in some cases reactions can be sever and even life threatening. Total avoidance of reactive foods is the only way to prevent food allergy reactions and complications. 

Food intolerance on the other hand, is a general term describing any abnormal physiological reaction to food, that is not triggered by an IgE immunological response. Food intolerances generally produce symptoms that are often vague and slow to develop. Some experience an obvious reaction such as bloating or diarrhoea, while for others eating certain foods triggers a range of symptoms that aren’t always easily recognised as being connected. Cow’s milk protein (dairy products), gluten (wheat, barley, oats and rye which are commonly found in bread), yeast, eggs, soya products, citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes are the most common foods sensitive individuals appear to react to. 

The 7 most common food allergens.

Symptoms of food intolerance can include: 

  • Bloating, abdominal distention, belching or flatulence 

  • Mouth ulcers, indigestion, reflux, cramps or nausea

  • Changes in bowel habits - constipation or diarrhoea 

  • Skin rashes, eczema, dermatitis, hives, swelling and acne

  • Nasal congestion, sinusitis, rhinitis or sneezing 

  • Itchy, burning, teary or red eyes 

  • Blocked or itchy ears, hearing loss or noise sensitivity 

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, palpitations or rapid pulse 

  • Fatigue, yawning, heaviness, lightheadedness or difficulty rising  

  • Brain fog, irritability, confusion, indifferent, nervousness or depression  

  • Muscle weakness, joint ache or stiffness

  • Frequent infections, poor wound healing and inflammation

 Food intolerance is also strongly linked with: 

What causes food intolerance? 

Non-immune mediated food intolerances are relatively straightforward. Where the body fails for whatever reason, to produce enough of the digestive enzymes required to effecively digest that type of food; such as with lactose intolerance, symptoms associated with nutrient malabsorption - like bloating, cramps or diarrhoea occur. Certain people may also simply react differently to the pharmacological or chemical effects of certains compounds (such as caffeine or salicylates) found naturally in foods or the chemicals added to preserve (such as sulphites) or improve processed food (such as MSG).

Immune mediated food intolerances are often more confusing. Where partially digested food particles find their way into the bloodstream, an IgG immunolgical response (unlike a true food allergy's IgE response) is activated. This response facilitates the elimination of antigenic food particles from where it shouldn't be and as our cells can only use individual nutrients rather than intact food particles, undigested food must be cleared from the bloodstream. An efficient immune system will clear the 'immune complex' that forms when IgG antibodies bind to antigenic food particles, without problem. When this clearance becomes compromised however, the presence of immune complexes that find their way into tissues, can cause inflammation. This inflammation is responsible for symptoms that can affect the whole body but don't necessarily occur each time a reactive food is eaten.

Both the integrity of the gastrointestinal wall and the immune system's ability to clear immune complexes, are involved in IgG mediated food intolerances. So rather than viewing food intolerance as an indication certain food or food group should be avoided entirely, food intolerance is better viewed as a sign of poor digestive health and an overburdened immune system.

Managing food intolerances

The easiest way to manage the self-perpetuating cycle of food intolerance is to identify then avoid all reactive foods. Keeping a detailed food diary taking note of exactly what you eat and any symptom you experience, is the best way of identifying reactive foods. A supervised elimination diet where trigger foods are avoided for a period of time before being reintroduced, is the only way of being certain if a particular food is causing an adverse response. Where there are multiple intolerances, this process is often tricky and should be overseen by a qualified health professional. IgG food intolerance tests can also be used to determine non-allergy (non IgE) mediated immune reactions to certain foods. This data is useful in helping to streamline a tailored elimination diet sooner rather than later.  

Reactions due to the absence of digestive enzymes can be remedied by supplementing with specific enzymes. Where reactions are associated with poor digestion and impaired digestive integrity or leaky gut syndrome, a tailored process of healing the gastrointestinal mucosa, correcting imbalances in the gut flora and optimising digestive function, often reestablishes gut tolerance allowing individuals to enjoy sensible amounts of foods that would have otherwise produced uncomfortable symptoms. This post Healing Leaky Gut discusses this more. 

Improving digestive tolerance

By cutting back on the most common food intolerance trigger foods and focusing on eating good healthy food, you can reduce the burden on a sensitive digestive and immune system. Before eliminating food groups entirely, always check with a health professional to avoid missing out on essential nutrients. Check back here for our next post - Leaky Gut and Bloating - all about impaired gastrointestinal integrity or 'leaky gut' and how this can contribute to the development of food intolerances and allergies. We have also since written a new post specifically about bread and bloating so take a look!

Leave us a comment if certain foods trigger bloating or other digestive complaints for you. 

About Brendan O'Loughlin

Brendan is a integrative naturopath, nutritionist and yoga teacher. He has completed training in Naturopathy, Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Yoga, Iridology and Live Blood Analysis.

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