A food intolerance is the inability to completely digest certain
foods due to a reduced production of dedicated proteins in the digestive
system, leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramps and diarrhoea.
Just like an axe can physically chop down a log, these proteins
called enzymes chemically break down the larger
(sugars and starch), fats and proteins into the smallest components
possible so they can be easily absorbed through the wall of our
small intestines. The most common type of food intolerance is 'Lactose'
which affects more than half of the world population. Lactose is
the carbohydrate (sugar) found in milk and of coarse in dairy products.
Lack of enzymes leads to undigested food remaining in the digestive
system which is then feasted upon by the healthy bacteria living
further down our guts, in the large intestine. The symptoms which
usually start from half an hour to two hours after eating are caused
by the larger quantities of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane
gases released by them.
Food intolerance must not be confused with food allergy. Food
allergy is caused when the immune system responds to certain foods
usually proteins, thinking they are harmful substances. Food intolerance
is also not food poisoning, which is caused by toxic substances
that would cause symptoms in anyone who ate the food (e.g. contaminated
meat). Food intolerance is not life threatening but can be very
uncomfortable if ignored.
Types of Food Intolerance
- Lactose Intolerance - is caused
when insufficient lactase, is produced. Lactase
breaks down lactose the sugar found in milk.
Read More »»
- Baby Colic - medical research established
that half babies suffering from colic is due to decreased
level of lactase production.
Read More »»
- Carbohydrate Intolerance - the
inability to completely digest carbohydrates such as
starch. It may hinder overweight people from loosing
weight. Read More »»
- Alcohol Intolerance - particularly
common by Asians from the Far East. Lacking the enzyme
that breaks down alcohol can make people ill.
Read More »»
- Coeliac Disease - demonstrates
symptoms for both food allergy and food intolerance.
This is a very important topic and has a dedicated page.
Coeliacs are not the only persons affected, simply drinking
beer can cause bloating. It will also explain
Non-Coeliac Gluten Intolerance.
Read More »»
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome - research
has concluded that many patients diagnosed with IBS
may actually be lactose intolerant, so it is worth checking
the facts. Read More »»
Food intolerances are rarely harmful but may cause unpleasant
- abdominal pain
Symptoms may start from half an hour after eating or
severity of symptoms varies from one person to another and depends
on two factors: how much or little enzymes a person produces; and
on the quantity of food consumed.
Diagnosis and treatment
The easiest test for a food intolerance is to remove the food
from your diet for at least two weeks, see if symptoms improve and
then try reintroducing the food (one by one). If symptoms return,
an intolerance is likely.
Lactose intolerance can be tested far more thoroughly using a
lactose tolerance test, a hydrogen breath test and a stool acidity
test. Your doctor can arrange these and other food intolerance tests
Food intolerance can be managed simply by cutting the food out
of your diet. Babies or younger children with a lactose intolerance
can be given soya milk instead of cow's milk. Adults may be able
to tolerate small amounts of troublesome foods, so may need to experiment
to work out what they can eat.
Supplements of digestive enzymes make life easier. The right
enzyme will help break down food consumed.
An enzyme is a protein that in street terms chops
down larger carbohydrates, fats and proteins into smaller parts
to enable them to be absorbed through the walls of the small
intestine. The following
table gives a glance for what each digestive enzyme does and where
it is produced/found:
Digestive enzymes in our body
||Where produced / found
||breaks down starch (e.g. vegetables) into maltose
- a single sugar absorbed by the body
||produced in saliva but most in pancreas then released
into small intestine
||produced in the stomach and pancreas which is then
released into the small intestine
||lactose into glucose and galactose - 2 single sugars
||produced in the wall of the small intestine where
||proteins into absorbable peptides and peptones
||maltose into 2 single sugars (used in beer
||produced by the pancreas and released into the small