If You Have These Symptoms You May Want To Take A Food Intolerance Test

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) defines food intolerance — also known as food sensitivity — as a condition that makes it difficult for people to digest specific types of food. Food intolerance is more common than many of us think. A 2014 study published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics notes that up 20% of the population complains of various food intolerances, especially people with digestive system disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

While food intolerance is common, it's crucial not to confuse it with a food allergy, even though it's tempting to use both terms interchangeably. Assessing the severity of symptoms can be an effective way to understand the difference between a food allergy and intolerance. According to the Mayo Clinic, food allergies affect the immune system, and eating foods you're allergic to can lead to severe (and even life-threatening) symptoms. On the other hand, food intolerances affect the digestive system and come with less serious symptoms, per the Mayo Clinic.

The overarching cause of food intolerance is the digestive system's inability to digest food optimally (via WebMD). The digestive system's importance to our overall health can't be overemphasized. Healthline explains that gut health can be tied to the immune system, mental health, and autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases. For the most part, this is why it's important to understand food intolerance. If you have these symptoms, you may want to take a food intolerance test.

Causes and symptoms of food intolerance

Symptoms of food intolerance may include (but aren't limited to) diarrhea, gas, bloating, headaches, migraines, heartburns, and abdominal pains (via Cleveland Clinic). According to the National Health Service (NHS), food intolerance symptoms usually start to show a few hours after eating the food you're sensitive to. Most symptoms like tummy pain, nausea, and stomach upset are commonly attributed to other ailments, making it difficult to relate them to food intolerances. Additionally, these symptoms are often related to specific foods. For instance, you may be lactose intolerant if your body can't digest essential ingredients found in dairy products like milk, yogurt, or soft cheese.

Lactose intolerance can happen to anyone if their small intestine doesn't make enough of the lactase enzyme, which breaks down the dairy ingredients into easily absorbable bits (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Apart from the small intestine's issues with producing lactase to ease the milk digestion process, the source adds that lactose intolerance can be hereditary or become profound if babies are born prematurely.

Food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, food colors, and preservatives are common causes of food sensitivity, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Acta Biomedica. Healthline also adds gluten to the food intolerance list. This is a protein found in wheat, to which up to 13% of people are intolerant, per Healthline.

How do I test for a food intolerance?

According to WebMD, the best way to manage symptoms of any food intolerance is to limit or avoid triggers. This demands an accurate diagnosis to know which foods to avoid. An elimination diet can be a great way to diagnose food intolerances, as it's designed to narrow down or remove offending foods commonly associated with intolerances for about two to three weeks, per Healthline. With the help of a nutritionist or doctor, offending foods can be introduced while monitoring and recording symptoms, per Healthline.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests cytotoxic testing procedures to identify the existence of food intolerance. This may involve monitoring changes in the appearance, size, shape, and other features of leukocytes exposed to antigens, or the materials extracted from specific foods. According to the Cleveland Clinic, hydrogen breath tests can also diagnose gastrointestinal conditions, including lactose intolerance. This method measures hydrogen levels in our breath after consuming a particular sugar. To diagnose food intolerance, the test can monitor the amount of hydrogen in your breath or how fast it's produced.

MedicalNewsToday notes that there's no known cure for food intolerances. After diagnosis, your doctor might advise you to avoid certain foods. The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders also recommends over-the-counter drugs like antacids to manage symptoms.