Food intolerances are common. Over 20% of people have unwanted symptoms after eating. Problems such as bloating, heartburn, cramping, or other digestive complaints are frequently labeled “ a sensitive stomach” or written off as normal. For people with IBS, these symptoms are typical, but they are far from normal.
Many IBS sufferers notice that specific foods worsen their symptoms. In the past, their complaints were perceived as imagined. But a new study validates what IBS sufferers have been telling their health care providers for years. Certain foods make their symptoms worse.
This recent research discovered a novel reason some food intolerances happen. This is the first step toward new treatments for symptom relief beyond food avoidance.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Defined
IBS is not an occasional stomach ache
IBS is not the same as an occasional episode of bloating or diarrhea. It is a chronic disorder featured by intermittent bouts of abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Some people with IBS have mild complaints, while others experience crippling symptoms that severely limit daily life functions.
Click here for further information on IBS and how to diagnose IBS.
New Research Shows Food Causes A Gut Reaction
GI infections create new food intolerances.
A 2021 study in the journal “Nature” showed that a person’s ability to tolerate certain foods changed after a bout of gastroenteritis (stomach infection). And, the food intolerance persisted, even after the infection was gone. ” I used to be able to eat “food x” and now I can’t because it makes me feel bad. “
People with IBS complain of this frequently to their doctors. They aren’t always heard or believed. Even if the doctor believed them, there was no explanation why this happened or treatment option other than eliminating the particular food.
This reaction stayed in the digestive system. There were no systemic symptoms like hives or breathing problems which are often associated with this type of immune reaction. The point being, this type of reaction was different, it stayed in the gut.
When that person ate that food again, the same type of immune reaction occurred and the symptoms returned.
Reasons This Study Is So Important
This is a new scientific explanation for food intolerances
- Knowing how things work leads to new treatment options. It opens the door to further study and other therapy options for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), estimated to affect over 1.1 BILLION people worldwide.
- This is validation that specific foods trigger symptoms in IBS. This is a long-awaited confirmation for patients. Doctors often refute this observation of food triggering IBS symptoms. This is frustrating for patients.
- IBS can be challenging to treat. This groundbreaking research gives voice to patients’ long-standing observations of food triggers.
- This is a new scientific explanation for food intolerances.
- This strengthens the argument that elimination diets, food logs, and dietary changes are useful in people with chronic digestive problems.
- Antihistamines, such as Claritin or Allegra, that block this type of immune reaction are already used to manage IBS, but not frequently. This may be a step toward more widespread use of a medication that has few side effects.
- Other medications that also block this type of reaction may also be introduced as new IBS therapies.
- This will also pave the way for further investigation into the role of histamine and mast cells in IBS symptoms. The low histamine diet should continue to be looked at for alleviating IBS symptoms. Lowering the amount of histamine-containing foods in your diet can quickly help relieve symptoms and is an exploding area of research.
- The low FODMAP diet has been highly successful for IBS treatment (source) but is challenging to follow. Perhaps this new research will place additional focus on evaluating diet as a trigger for gastrointestinal symptoms. Perhaps there are more focused triggers that can be used to calm symptoms.
What To Do if You Suspect A Food Intolerance
How to figure out if you have a food intolerance
The most reliable way to determine if a specific food (or beverage) is causing your symptoms is by keeping a detailed food log. Record everything you consume for a minimum of 3 wks. Record good days and bad. What doesn’t bother you is as important as what does.
INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO KEEP A FOOD LOG.
Include all the following details on the log
- Record everything you eat or drink; the amount of food, method of preparation, and type/brand/product
- Write it down or use an app such as Cara Care. Record foods immediately after eating. You will forget otherwise.
- Health status; are you suffering from other conditions such as hayfever, a cold, or the flu.
For each meal, record :
4. Stress level 1-10
5.Time of day
6. Hours and quality of sleep the night before
7. All symptoms that occur and the time they occur. Include everything, even if it seems minimal
8.Keep the log for 3 wks minimum
9. Review it with a dietitian if possible
What to do if you think you have a food intolerance
- Work with a physician first to determine the cause of your intestinal symptoms.
- Keep a food log.
- Show the Nature research paper to your doctor. Nature is a well-respected journal. It will provide validation.
- Work with a dietitian to help navigate your road to health
- What about food sensitivity testing? Stay tuned! Join my email list to receive the article coming soon.
As always, further studies are needed to gather more information and best treatment options but this is an exciting step!
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THIS ARTICLE IS COPYRIGHTED BY AMY BURKHART, MD, RD.
Dr. Amy Burkhart is a doctor (M.D.), Registered Dietitian, R.D., and fellowship-trained in integrative medicine. She specializes in treating chronic digestive disorders from an integrative/functional medicine perspective.