Not All in the Mind

How often do we hear or read that food intolerance is ‘all in the mind’?  This simple, but totally false statement, causes enormous stress to those that suffer from this debilitating and distressing condition.  Given that stress can also contribute to the symptoms of food intolerance, this blinkered view is less than helpful.  In fact, it can result in those needing help not seeking the advice they need for fear of being labeled as a hypochondriac.

When challenged, even the most hardened champions of the ‘all in the mind’ school of thought will admit that conditions such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, eczema and asthma all exist, and in a vast majority of cases, are food related or are exacerbated by food.

So what exactly is food intolerance?  Food intolerance is an abnormal reproducible reaction to foods, which can present in a number of ways.  Some people will have one symptom such a migraine, whilst others will have the misfortune to have multiple reactions including:

  • Gut symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome 
  • Skin symptoms such as rashes and eczema
  • Respiratory conditions such as asthma or breathing problems
  • Miscellaneous such as migraine or general lethargy.

Recognising that food is a trigger for a particular set of symptoms is not easy.  Unlike food allergy where the symptoms are usually almost immediate, food intolerance symptoms often appear hours later and in some cases up to two or three days later.  In fact, once diagnosed and given a management plan, people often realise they have been having low-grade symptoms most of their lives resulting in a feeling of general ‘unwellness’.  Often, this is not enough to make them seek medical help but enough to stop them living life to the full and achieving their full potential.

As one sufferer, Julie said, "All my life I have had a ‘funny tummy’ but I lived with it, accepting it as part of life.  I would be reluctant to go out to dinner or social events because of my ‘funny tummy’.  Now I know the triggers that caused my problems I can manage it and my life has totally changed.  I go out to dinner with friends, go to the theatre without having to immediately look for the toilet.  Sorting out my food triggers has also meant that for the first time in twenty years I can sleep through the night.  Before I just accepted, I was a poor sleeper now my brain is sharper and I have much more energy.  I now realise just how poorly I was feeling all of the time.  I visited my doctor frequently, but food never came into the conversation.  I just wish I had known about food intolerance years ago."

For sufferers of food intolerance the problem is that usually it’s the symptom that gets treated not the cause.  So a sufferer could well be treated with a variety of medications and creams rather than efforts being made to discover the triggers that could be causing the problem.  Prevention rather than treatment is the key.  Although for some people following an exclusion diet is not an option for a variety of reasons, so treatment is a more appropriate route for them.


Last update: October 2012

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