Six signs you have a food intolerance – and what you need to do about it

Feeling anxious, tired or even suffering from joint pain are often brushed away as just part of the stresses of modern life.

But they could be indicators of a food intolerance – and simply by cutting something out of your diet could improve your health and well-being.

Experts have now come up with the six most common symptoms that show your body is reacting to a particular food you eat.

Often confused with allergies, food intolerances are completely different.

Symptoms can take up to 72 hours to present themselves and can vary in severity from person to person. 

Dr Gill Hart, Biochemist and Scientific Director at YorkTest Laboratories, said: “A food intolerance can occur when your body has trouble digesting certain foods.

“When this happens over time, large protein particles from food can enter the blood stream.

"The immune system sometimes sees these particles as a threat and produces antibodies to ‘attack’ them.

“Your body’s immune system responds by creating inflammation. It’s this inflammation which can trigger symptoms which, if left untreated, can develop over time and may cause symptoms.”

Here are six signs you may have a food intolerance.

1. Tiredness or fatigue

The most common cause of tiredness is lack of sleep but science has shown food and drink can have a big impact on your energy levels.

Dr Hart said: “Many people associate food intolerances with digestive issues such as bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

“However, fatigue and low energy are also symptoms of a food intolerance.

“In fact, one in five people who came to YorkTest for testing last year did so because they were experiencing tiredness.”

2. Itchy skin or eczema

Food intolerances can also contribute to skin related complaints, Dr Hart says.

She added: “If you are experiencing prolonged bouts of itchy skin without an obvious cause, it could be a good idea to look at your diet.

“People who tend to develop eczema are categorised as being ‘atopic’, which means they have an overactive immune system, causing their skin to easily become inflamed.

“If there is something you are eating which is causing inflammation in the body, there is a possibility that this can impact your skin, meaning maintaining an eczema-friendly diet could be key in managing flare-ups.”

3. IBS symptoms

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) include abdominal pains, excess wind, bloating and constipation.

IBS can be triggered by certain foods which irritate the digestive system and can also be a symptom of food intolerance.

Dr Hart said: “Studies have found that irritable bowel is linked to a hypersensitive gut and many people find relief through eliminating certain foods from their diet.”

4. Joint pain

Do you have general aches and pains that can’t be explained by an underlying condition?

It might be wise to look at what you are eating.

Dr Hart said: “If you experience general joint pain it might be worth considering what part your diet has to play because a food intolerance could be contributing to these problems.”

According to the Arthritis Association, what you eat can cause inflammation in the body and joints, which can lead to pain.

They say foods that can cause inflammation include sugar, saturated fats and trans fats, which is found in foods such as pizza and cheese.

5. Anxiety

If you constantly feel anxious it could be worth taking a look at what you're putting in your body.

Dr Hart said: “Research has shown that gastrointestinal inflammation, one of the most frequent symptoms of food intolerance, is frequently found in those showing signs of depression and anxiety.

“The relationship between the gut and mental health is often bi-directional.

"This means that if you’re feeling depressed the health of your digestive system is likely to suffer, and if you’re having gastro troubles the chance of experiencing depression and anxiety increases.

“Reactions to foods vary a great deal from person to person and an ingredient which may cause problems for one person might be fine for another.

“We call this our personal ‘food fingerprint’, and this is why food intolerances can be so difficult to pinpoint without help.”

6. Migraines

Migraines are throbbing, intense headaches which can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, noise or smell.

The University of York conducted a survey to understand the benefits of elimination diets based on the results of a food intolerance test.

Out of 259 people who reported experiencing migraines, 76 per cent reported an improvement having removed their ‘trigger’ foods.

What can you do and how can you be tested?

Dr Hart said: “Food intolerances can affect many areas including digestion, skin, energy levels, respiration, the joints and even psychological health.

“In our experience at YorkTest, the most common food intolerance† symptoms range from migraines, eczema, IBS symptoms and bloating, joint pain, asthma, tiredness and anxiety.

“Food intolerance testing is not currently offered on the NHS. Instead, people are encouraged to eliminate certain foods one-by-one to identify an intolerance.

“However, this can often be tricky as symptoms may not appear until 72 hours after you eat a ‘problem’ food.

“At YorkTest we analyse IgG reactions to a wide range of food and drink ingredients.

“We always encourage people who are concerned about symptoms to first see their GP to rule out any underlying conditions.”

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