With more and more people realizing that there are certain foods that just don’t suit their stomachs, the phrases gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan are something we are hearing frequently. What does it mean to have ‘food intolerance’? Dr Shefali Verma, General Practitioner at the Institute for Biophysical Medicine in Dubai, sheds some light for us.
“What people call food intolerance is really food sensitivity, and there are three possible types,” says Dr Verma.
“First, there are food allergies, which present themselves immediately after ingesting foods such as peanuts. This can be a medical emergency. These people might have to carry an epipen in case they come into contact with the offending food, perhaps, in some instances, not even due to direct ingestion, but through cross-contamination.
“Food intolerances are actually when one doesn’t have the enzymes to break down part of the item. For example, lactose intolerance is when you don’t have the enzyme lactase that breaks down the sugar molecule lactose. If you consume the enzyme, symptoms may decrease.
“Sensitivities are delayed reactions (from five minutes to 72 hours). These reactions are when the immune system reacts to the protein element of the food item. They are not life threatening and can change over time.”
The symptoms associated with food sensitivity can vary in severity and are thought to affect many areas, including, digestion, skin, energy levels, respiration, the joints, and even psychological health. And as Dr Verma says: “Anyone can develop food sensitivity.”
Leaky Gut Syndrome
“Sensitivities are generally caused when the lining of the digestive system is somewhat breached. Stress, chronic use of antibiotics, use of non-steroidal anti inflammatories, and drinking lots of alcohol are just some of the causes of ‘leaky gut’ syndrome,” says Dr Verma. “When these food particles pass through this breach into the bloodstream, the immune system tries to fight it and an antibody (immune cell) is created against this food item. These antibodies have a memory and when you ingest this item the immune cells create a response and inflammation, and therefore sensitivity.
“There are a few tests out there that test sensitivities. I have been using imupro300 (IgG delayed antibodies against 269 foods) for my patients for the last nine years. There are also panels against allergies, looking at IgE (immediate antibody response).
Check with Your Doctor
“Time is one healer – avoiding the sensitivity for a certain amount of time to allow the immune system to almost ‘forget’ this reaction, helps. We are designed to rotate our food, not eat the same food everyday. Think about foods eaten during different seasons. Rotation is important. Also, getting rid of the cause of the ‘leaky gut’ is also important, as it takes away the trigger. If the ‘leaky gut’ is bad then healing of the lining becomes a priority,” concludes Dr Verma.
If you think your child may have food sensitivity, check with your doctor or a dietitian before eliminating foods from their diet, as a restricted diet could affect their growth and development.
Dr Shefali Verma is a General Practitioner at the Institute for Biophysical Medicine in Dubai, where she is also a Partner and Medical Director. In 2010, she became a Functional Medicine Specialist in Dubai Healthcare City.