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Food intolerances: symptoms, tests & treatments

Food intolerances: symptoms, tests & treatments

Worried you might have a food intolerance?

Food intolerances surface as a basket of unexplained symptoms that disrupt normal life, leaving you mystified and uncomfortable. On the other hand, people sometimes assume they have a food intolerance when their problems are a symptom of some other disorder and occasionally something much more serious.

Frequently, those with suspected food intolerances have been pushed from pillar to post, trying to find out what’s wrong with them.

At the Coker Clinic, we understand. Day after day, we effectively screen and treat patients that found no correct diagnosis elsewhere.

So what are food intolerances and what do you need to know? Dr Coker, a medical expert in food intolerances and allergies, answers common patient questions.

What does food intolerance feel like? What are the most common food intolerance symptoms?

Generally you’ll probably not feel well in yourself. If you have a food intolerance you’ll most commonly experience abdominal discomfort an hour or two after food, but it can take up to 48 hours to see a reaction, which makes identifying the problem very difficult unless you are a specialist.

Many people suffer abdominal distention (swelling), feel very gassy and need to pass a lot of wind. You may also experience some fatigue, skin rashes or itching. Some patients report that after a meal they feel lethargic and need to lie down to rest. What are the most common food intolerances? Among the most common are:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy (lactose)
  • Caffeine
  • FODMAPS – a type of carbohydrate present in numerous foods which can upset the digestive system
  • Salicylates – a chemical present naturally in numerous foods and also often added as a preservative in some medicines and foods
  • Histamine – histamine is found naturally in the body, and is important for the nervous system, immune system and digestive system. But it can also build up in certain foods during fermentation and storage, and some people develop intolerance to it.
  • Sulphites – which appear in some foods naturally, but are added to certain other foods to preserve them
  • Fructose – naturally present in fruits and added to many fizzy drinks and other foods

Dr Coker explains: “The most common food intolerance of all is gluten (coeliac disease), but it often goes unidentified. Coeliac antibody testing is often used to identify coeliac disease but this is not the most reliable method available. At The Coker Chest Clinic we carry out very specific testing, so I’m often called on after patients have gone round in circles trying to find out what’s wrong. There are so many other diseases which can mimic allergic reactions or food intolerances  for example patients with thyroid gland disorders come up with skin rashes. It’s advisable to consult with consultat physician with a broad expertise, so you know there is no other undiagnosed problem .”

Can you develop a food intolerance over time?

It is possible to develop a food intolerance at any point in life. It often occurs after significant stress, like surgery or a major illness.>

Similarly, patients with long COVID may develop histamine intolerance. We have found that lots of patients are left post-COVID with unexplained skin rashes, non specific symptoms like tiredness, but these can be signs of food intolerance.

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Food allergies and food intolerances are often thought to be similar but they are completely different processes that take place in the body. They are often confused because they can mimic each other. The truth is that it’s not possible to know for certain until you’ve had the appropriate tests.

Allergies involve an immune response with IgE (immunoglobin) levels raised, and it’s normally a very quick and significant reaction with closing of the throat, difficulty breathing, chest tightness. It mostly happens very quickly, within minutes after a meal – but not always.

On the surface, it can be difficult to distinguish between these two until it is investigated correctly and the appropriate test results unravel the cause. You need a physician with expertise in allergies who can pick through your patient history and know what they’re looking at.

What’s the difference between an allergy test and an intolerance test?

The tests for allergies and intolerances are very different. Whilst some clinics provide skin prick testing, this isn’t the most accurate of methods. At The Coker Chest Clinic, we test for allergies using blood sampling as this is the most accurate method.

When it comes to food intolerance testing, in the clinic we use non-invasive methods. This can include measuring the gases in the bowel.

Do food elimination diets for food intolerances work?

Restricted diets can help but they have to be prescriptive – directed by a physician after they find out what the problem is.

Dr Coker explains: “A significant number of patients keep a food diary, cutting out dairy, gluten, and histamines before they come to see me in an effort to try and identify the foods causing ‘bad reactions’. However, it is generally not advised to diagnose the cause of a food intolerance based on a food diary alone – a ‘bad reaction’ can mean different things to different people.”

At The Coker Chest Clinic we use state of the art testing and analysis. This means that we can work out from these tests exactly what the problem is and there is no need to persevere with elimination diets (which are often unhealthy).

What is the best food intolerance test?

The best food intolerance test is the one that gives accurate results the first time around.

We only offer evidence-based diagnoses and go as far as we need to unravel the truth. The testing we provide is very reliable, sensitive and precise. It can pinpoint exactly what is causing the issue(s).

“But once we know what food is the culprit, I discuss with the patient the appropriate diet – a balanced diet – with the right range of nutrients, so they can get their life back.” explains Dr Coker.

“In some cases, we find that patients don’t have an allergy or intolerance at all. We have previously seen patients that think they have an allergy but testing revealed that they have a serious underlying illness, which would have otherwise gone undiagnosed. If you think you have any symptoms of an allergy or intolerance it’s always best to be sure and get tested, to be safe.”

Book your consultation with our allergy and food intolerance specialist

The tests we may recommend can be carried out through your local private hospital or GP (where available) which means that we see patients from all over the UK (via video).

If you are suffering from allergy-like/food intolerance-like symptoms, get in touch with us today to book a consultation so that we can identify the cause and make you better. Call us on 020 7118 5600 or email us at info@chestclinic.co.uk.

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