Food intolerances can give symptoms of digestive problems; including diarrhoea, bloating and stomach cramps.
A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a food or ingredient, occurring every time the food is eaten and particularly if large quantities are consumed. It may be caused by difficulties digesting certain substances, such as lactose. This is usually because the body doesn't produce enough of the particular chemical or enzyme that's needed for digestion of that food.
Food intolerances are rarely harmful but may cause unpleasant symptoms including nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Unlike an allergy, a food intolerance is never life-threatening as no allergic reaction takes place.
Symptoms can begin hours or days after eating or drinking the food in question. The severity of symptoms varies depending on the amount of enzyme the person makes, and how much of the food has been consumed.
One of the most common food intolerances is triggered by cow's milk, which contains lactose. Many people have a shortage of the enzyme lactase which breaks down the lactose to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Another common example is a deficiency of an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol can make affected people feel unwell. Some people have adverse reactions to chemical preservatives and additives in food and drinks, such as sulphites, benzoates, salicylates, monosodium glutamate, caffeine, aspartame and tartrazine.
Unlike a food allergy, the immune system is not activated when suffering from a food intolerance. Neither is a food intolerance the same as food poisoning, which is caused by toxic substances that would cause symptoms in anyone who ate the food.
The easiest test for a food intolerance is to remove the food from your diet. Wait and see if symptoms improve, then try reintroducing the food. If symptoms return, an intolerance is likely.
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