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How to live with and manage food intolerances
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How to live with and manage food intolerances

What was that sudden food assault - allergy or intolerance?
woman holding glass of milk
Representational image | Shutterstock

Anees Rahman, Bengaluru, has been a regular at the local cool drinks shop near his house for a few years now, ordering a dry fruit milkshake after his morning run. But in recent weeks, he started experiencing stomach cramps, bloating and nausea.  

“I thought I had developed indigestion due to eating out. But I soon realised that it was a recurring phenomenon, happening every time I drank the dates milkshake. When I replaced it with orange juice, it seemed to disappear,” says Rahman, 35.   

He is not alone. Food intolerances and allergies that suddenly start in adult life are a common occurrence today. A 2019 study showed that 20 percent of the world’s population is estimated to suffer from food intolerances, while food allergies are estimated to affect 10.8 percent of the population. However, adult allergies seem to affect 5 percent of adults, according to a 2014 study 

Common causes 

Some of the common causes of allergies among adults are dairy products, seafood, peanuts, eggs and gluten. While food intolerances can be hereditary, the human body could also develop a dislike to certain foods as we age, especially if there is a sudden change in one’s diet, certain medications such as antibiotics that are known to kill gut bacteria, or even traumatic events such as losing one’s job, personal traumas such as separation or bereavement; or being diagnosed with a serious disorder.  

“There is a spike in the use of antibiotics, which weakens the gut microbiome responsible for digestion. For example, E. coli in the gut flora is killed by normal antibiotics,” says Sheetal D. Bidri, homeopath at Bengaluru-based Happy Healing. She adds that it could lead to food intolerance. 

Take the test, shun the suspect 

Currently, there is no cure for any kind of food intolerances. Its spectrum is wide and the individual needs to first ascertain foods that cause an allergy and then take necessary precautions.   

“One way you can know if you are intolerant to certain foods is by strategically eliminating those [suspect] substances,” says Sangal. “There are antigen tests as well to assess the presence of antibodies developed against certain food items. Lactose and gluten intolerance can be tested through antigen tests, but we don’t have tests for a lot of stimulants, including caffeine,” she points out.  

The severity of symptoms can be reduced by avoiding suspect foods, limiting the use of antibiotics and following a healthy diet. “Gut health can be ensured by avoiding acidic foods, aerated drinks, junk and processed food. Also, eat fermented foods that are rich in probiotics to keep most food intolerances at bay,” says Bidri. 

The most common types of food intolerance include: Lactose intolerance (affecting 65-70%) of the world’s population, gluten intolerance (estimated to affect 0.5-13% of the population) and caffeine intolerance (which some adults develop in the form of caffeine sensitivity over the years).

ALSO READ: Food allergy or intolerance? The devil lies in what you eat 

Simple remedies against food intolerance  

Ginger is a well-known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and has been used traditionally to treat symptoms of food intolerance such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and indigestion. Ginger tea is a preferred option. 

Apple cider vinegar, studied for its antibiotic qualities, soothes stomach aches and aids digestion. One tablespoon of it can be mixed with one cup of hot water and consumed. 

Chamomile tea is another anti-inflammatory remedy that can reduce bloating and ease stomach cramps. The tea relaxes the muscles of the stomach lining and eases the contractions that cause spasms.  

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