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Food intolerances - a major obstacle to great health

We work under the same roof as Alison from Healthy Eating so the other day when she started discussing some keys to great health, intolerance testing came up as an important factor in overall health. Food intolerances weren’t something we covered in pharmacy school so I started reading through her success stories and realised time and time again, medical conditions that seemed untreatable or caused terrible quality of life, were often reversed once certain foods were removed from the person’s diet. So to understand food intolerances a little more, here’s a Q&A with Holistic Nutritionist, Alison Cowell.

What is a food intolerance? 

Well, it’s not the same as a food allergy! Usually, those with allergies are aware they have them as there are noticeable symptoms (rashes, blocked sinuses, digestive discomfort etc). A food intolerance affects the autonomic nervous system (your ‘fight or flight’ response) and, for a split second, your muscles fail. That triggers a reaction that affects your small intestine. This not only causes inflammation and damage to your intestinal tract, it also inhibits absorption of nutrients. It is the malabsorption of nutrients that leads to the subsequent symptom – which manifest hours, sometimes days later. The cumulative impact of nutrient malabsorption over time leads to more debilitating conditions.

What are the most common foods to be intolerant to? 

Six foods are responsible for 80% of food intolerances: gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, yeast and tomatoes. 

Why might I develop a food intolerance? 

There are various reasons, but the most common cause is a deficiency of natural occurring enzymes that help break down the food. For instance, you need an enzyme called lactase to be present in your system in order to break down lactose (a type of sugar) in dairy. If you don’t have enough, it will lead to bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements- and even low mood. Another emerging cause is that these days, sadly, there are many harmful additives in processed foods and it is THEY that are the issue, not the food itself. It can get complicated! Intolerances can be present at any age – in fact a breast feeding mother with an undiagnosed food intolerance can be unwittingly harming her baby, as the antibodies her body is producing to defend her from the ‘invader’ will travel through her breast milk and adversely affect the baby.

Does that mean I can never eat that food again? 

Sometimes yes, but in most cases a period of elimination can resolve the problem. I was intolerant to eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms (a little inconvenient when you’re a vegetarian!) I reintroduced tomatoes after a few weeks but mushrooms and eggs made it clear they were NOT my friends for a couple of years.

If I do have food intolerances, will it be to just one food? 

I find this one of the most frustrating aspects. I see so many people who have been confirmed as having coeliac disease (an extreme intolerance to gluten) - yet after that diagnosis, no further testing was done to see if other culprits existed so they continue to experience digestive discomfort and other unpleasant symptoms. It is very common to be sensitive and/or intolerant to a number of foods.

So if I’ve got symptoms of fatigue, headache, unusual bowel movements, digestive discomfort, joint pain, what can I do to test for intolerances? 

Because of the range of symptoms caused by food intolerances, it can be difficult to identify the culprit/s. The easiest thing to do is to invest in a food intolerance test (there are a number of methods to choose from), but failing that, it is beneficial to keep a food and symptom diary. This should record not only what you are eating and drinking, including dressings and sauces, but also the time of day and the symptom. Remember that intolerances have delayed symptoms, it could be that your 10am banana was the trigger for your 7pm migraine. 

At our Healthy Eating clinics in Ahuriri Pharmacy and Bay Plaza Pharmacy, Heather Barrow and I not only offer a number of testing methods but also ensure that your diet is providing you with all the nutrients you need in the event you have to eliminate any foods due to intolerance. We also offer accompanied supermarket visits to help with alternative food choices as we recognise that it can sometimes be overwhelming once a positive diagnosis has been made.

If you would like to learn more about food intolerances and keys to feeling healthy and revitalised, we’d love you to join Alison for a fun and informative talk over a smoothie. Invest an hour of your time to check for the 3 most common food intolerances and assess your current health status. Friday March 18, 7:30-8:30am at Ahuriri Pharmacy, Ahuriri (P. 8357948). Places are limited so book online now, phone us or pop in store to secure your place.



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