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Nutrition
Marisa HeinzeOctober 27, 2022

When food makes you sick – intolerance and allergies

Grumbling stomach after eating - food allergy or intolerance?

Colloquially, food allergies and intolerances are often lumped together. These are two fundamentally different problems. We explain how they differ, what the triggers are and what symptoms occur. We also reveal a few tips on how you can reduce your risk of developing an allergy or intolerance.

Allergy or intolerance - what's the difference?

A food allergy is an immune response by the body. The immune system is hostile to certain components of food. When these components are ingested, the immune system sees these as a threat and overreacts to them.

Therefore, the following ingredients of packaged food must be labelled:

  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Fish
  • Gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Lupins
  • Milk (especially lactose)
  • Nuts, e.g. B. Hazelnuts
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulfite (concentration above 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/l)
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Moluscs, e.g. B. Mussels

On the other hand, a medically called food intolerance, is the inability of the intestine to properly digest or process certain components of food. The following intolerances are typical:

Fructose intolerance

Fructose is the natural sweetener in fruit. The body can break down between 35 and 50 grams at a time, but for people with a fructose intolerance, the figure is less than 25 grams. They lack a certain protein that is responsible for sugar transport: the fructose is transported undigested into the intestine and is not broken down by the local bacteria.

Nevertheless, fructose does not usually have to be completely eliminated from the menu. Only foods that have a high fructose content need to be avoided or eaten sparsely, such as:

  • Dried fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Honey
  • Berries
  • Sparkling wine and sweet wine
  • Convenience products that are sweetened with fructose.

Gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, is an immune response rather than an intolerance. The body's immune system treats gluten as an enemy and reacts with an immune reaction. The result is inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.

In the case of gluten intolerance, a consistent avoidance of gluten is necessary. Gluten is mainly found in cereals such as spelt, rye, barley, oats and wheat, as well as in many processed foods. The gluten protein is even found in ice cream cones and cakes.

Histamine intolerance

Histamine intolerance prevents the body from breaking down histamine. It is responsible for some important bodily functions, such as the defense against foreign substances. In addition, it regulates intestinal movement and gastric acid production.

Histamine is an endogenous messenger substance that is also found in food. This includes, above all, stored, matured, proofed or fermented foods. Basically, the longer the storage, maturation, fermentation or fermentation lasts, the higher the histamine content. The following foods should therefore be avoided:

  • Beer
  • Vinegar
  • Seafood
  • Red wine
  • Sauerkraut
  • Cheese, the special are long matured
  • Various fish products (especially canned goods)
  • Salami
  • Ham
  • Smoked meat

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance (milk sugar intolerance) is the most common food intolerance: around 75% of adults worldwide are affected, in Germany it is around 15%. The reason is a lactase deficiency. In order for the body to be able to use lactose, it has to be broken down. The enzyme is responsible for this.

Lactose-intolerant people lack the required amount of lactase in their bodies. Products containing lactose usually cause symptoms shortly after consumption. Products include:

  • Milk
  • Quark
  • Cream
  • Cream cheese
  • Chocolate (in part)

Being lactose intolerant does not mean that you have to give up dairy products completely - everyone's tolerance is different. In addition, there are now many lactose-free milk products or plant-based milk alternatives to buy in the supermarket. Many types of hard cheese are also lactose-free.

What are the triggers for complaints?

The trigger for intolerances are often missing enzymes in the body. As a result, the body cannot digest certain components of the food. Damaged skin of the small intestine can also lead to food intolerance. In this case, the walls of the small intestine allow too many harmful substances into the bloodstream. Heavily processed foods, harmful environmental influences and stress are considered to be the causes.

In the case of an allergy, the immune system is the trigger for symptoms: it is responsible for keeping our body healthy. A decision is made between "endogenous", "foreign", "harmless" and "dangerous" and foreign, harmful substances are removed from the body accordingly. In the case of a food allergy, it classifies certain components of food, namely proteins, as foreign and dangerous.

Food allergies can be inherited - if both parents have an allergy, your risk is correspondingly high. But there are also other factors that influence the development of a food allergy. This includes increased contact with the allergy-causing substances. Excessive hygiene, especially in childhood, can also lead to increased susceptibility. In this case, the immune system lacks infections as a comparison and learning opportunity to be able to distinguish between good and bad substances.

By the way: People with a food allergy often suffer from other allergic reactions, such as hay fever or allergic asthma or neurodermatitis. If the skin symptoms of neurodermatitis worsen, a food allergy can also be behind it.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance?

People with a food intolerance mainly suffer from digestive problems such as abdominal cramps and bloating, heartburn, bloating and diarrhea. Fatigue, skin rashes, headaches and dizziness can also occur. The severity of the symptoms is related to the amount eaten. The symptoms often appear shortly after consumption, but sometimes only hours or even days later.

People with celiac disease often suffer from a lack of nutrients, as these are poorly absorbed and remain undigested in the intestine. The body reacts to this with typical symptoms such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, tiredness, weight loss and water retention (protein deficiency oedema). In addition, anemia, vitamin deficiency, osteoporosis, joint and skin problems and depression can also occur.

Histamine-intolerant people react with symptoms such as breathing difficulties, drop in blood pressure, dizziness, headaches and migraines as well as acute diarrhea, reddening of the skin or itching.

In the case of lactose intolerance, the milk sugar is not broken down properly and is instead broken down in the intestine by the intestinal bacteria. The resulting gases cause symptoms such as flatulence, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Typical symptoms of a food allergy appear within a few minutes. These include:

  • Itching or swelling in the mouth and throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Running nose
  • Itchy or sore eyes
  • Red, itchy or swollen skin
  • Stomach and intestine problems such as nausea, vomiting or acute diarrhea
  • Breathlessness
  • Fainting
  • Allergic shock

Caution, the anaphylactic shock!

Anaphylactic shock is the maximum allergic reaction and requires immediate medical attention. It affects the entire body and can be fatal without medical intervention. Call the emergency doctor at the first signs such as itching, numbness in the throat and on the tongue. The palms of the feet and hands itch, the skin reddens, swelling and wheals develop. There are also digestive problems and headaches. The consequences can be shortness of breath or even respiratory arrest. The heartbeat changes and people may lose consciousness.

Tips and help with food allergies and intolerance

Do you feel like you have a food intolerance? The first step is a food diary. Use a single page for each day and write down everything when and what you ate and drank. Write down the type and time of the complaint. Also enter the accompanying circumstances, such as taking medication, stress or your period.

With the help of the food diary, the connections between foods and their symptoms can be identified. You can discuss the notes with your doctor and have a diagnosis made.

The gut plays a major role in our health, as 80% of the immune system is located here. An unnatural lifestyle can trigger allergic reactions and overreact the immune system to such an extent that even healthy foods are viewed as a threat.

Fast food and antibiotics - whether in meat, water or as medication - can upset the delicate balance of the gut. If this causes inflammation, the risk of an allergy increases. The development of a food allergy cannot necessarily be avoided, but you can reduce your risk with a few tips:

  • A healthy level of hygiene: Hygiene is important. However, don't overdo it. Because too much hygiene can make people who do not yet suffer from an allergy susceptible to it.
  • Reduce pollution. Bring your intestinal flora back into balance and help your body to free itself from the stresses that led to the overreaction.
  • Reduce ready meals. The food additives contained can trigger allergies . It is therefore best to cook fresh every day. Use lots of fresh, unprocessed food, preferably regional, seasonal and organic.
  • Avoid stress. Give your body the opportunity to get rid of toxins and old ballast. Less stress means your body can recover and “recharge”. Exercise is a good way to reduce stress. Meditation or a relaxing bath can also do you good.
  • Drink enough. Still water or herbal teas are best (allergy sufferers should pay attention to the ingredients when choosing the tea!)
  • Avoid industrial sugar. If you like it sweet, you should use alternatives such as maple syrup, honey, agave syrup or stevia.
  • Pay attention to your acid-base balance. Include lots of vegetables, herbs and/or fruit in your diet. The vital substances contained therein are base-binding and ideal antagonists to acid-forming, protein-rich food.
  • Prefer whole grain products. They contain fiber that is important for the large intestine.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics for the gut. Supplement the diet with inulin-rich foods such as chicory, artichokes, onions and leeks. These prebiotics (live microorganisms) are a downright favorite food for your good gut bacteria.
  • Rely on superfoods. Include superfoods in your diet. Dietary supplements are a good option. Be sure to use 100% natural ingredients!

Food allergies and intolerances are not the same!

They are not the same and yet they have one thing in common: the body defends itself against the food. In the case of an allergy, this is caused by an immune reaction, in the case of an intolerance due to a restricted intestinal function.

In both cases, a balanced diet is important and helpful, because many problems arise in the intestines - 80% of our immune system is located here. Support your intestinal health with superfoods and a balanced acid-base balance.

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