Food Intolerance Causes, Complications, Prevention And Treatment


Your digestive system is impacted by food intolerances. For people with intolerances or sensitivities, some foods are indigestible. They have issues including diarrhea and flatulence. Food intolerance or sensitivity is unpleasant but not fatal.

When a meal is challenging for your digestive system to process, you may have a food intolerance (breakdown). Food intolerance is also known as food sensitivity.

Your intestines may be sensitive to some foods and unable to tolerate them, which is known as food intolerance. You can suffer unpleasant symptoms after consuming certain meals, such as gas, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

Intolerance to a meal

  • Your digestive system is affected.
  • Occurs when some meals are difficult for your digestive system to process.
  • Causes non-life-threatening symptoms, such as an upset stomach.
  • Causes symptoms to appear shortly after eating as the meal passes through the digestive system.
  • If you consume a modest amount of food, it can not result in symptoms.

Typical dietary intolerances include:

  • People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to break down the lactose contained in milk and other dairy products. The most prevalent food intolerance is this one.
  • Histamines are organic substances found in a variety of foods, including cheese, pineapple, bananas, avocados, and chocolate. Histamines are present in both white wine and some red wines. Histamine intolerance prevents some people from producing enough diamine oxidase enzyme to metabolize this substance.
  • Gluten protein is present in all three grains: wheat, rye, and barley. Being sensitive to gluten is not the same as having celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition. In people with celiac disease, gluten causes small intestine damage. If you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your body has a harder difficulty absorbing gluten.

Foodborne illness

Some foods include naturally occurring compounds that are poisonous to people and can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and skin rashes.

Undercooked beans, for instance, contain aflatoxins, which can result in highly painful stomach issues. The toxin is absent from fully cooked beans. People may discover that they respond to beans after one meal but not after another due to the effect that cooking time has on the number of toxins.

Similar to food poisoning, scombroid fish sickness can result from eating some species of rotten fish. Eating fish with a high histamine content as a result of faulty storage or processing causes this harmful response. It may look just like a bad allergic response.

To digest food, the body employs digestive enzymes. If someone does not have certain enzymes, children could have trouble digesting some meals.

Milk contains the sugar lactose. Lactase, an enzyme that transforms lactose into smaller molecules that the body may readily absorb via the colon, is insufficient in those with lactose intolerance.

Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and spasms can result from lactose staying in the digestive tract.

Intolerance to fructose

A sugar called fructose may be found in fruit, certain vegetables, and honey. Although it is uncommon, fructose intolerance can also result from an enzyme deficiency. Hereditary fructose intolerance is the term used in such circumstances.

The condition known as fructose malabsorption, in which the body lacks a protein necessary for the absorption of sugar from the gut, is far more prevalent.

In some people, the fructose in food ferments in the stomach, resulting in gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and a feeling of fullness.

Gluten sensitivity

Among the grains that contain gluten protein are wheat, barley, and rye. After consuming gluten-containing meals, a person with gluten intolerance feels uncomfortable, such as pain, bloating, or nausea.

Gluten sensitivity is also linked to non-digestive symptoms like:

  • Headaches with mental fog
  • Arthritic pain 
  • Despair 
  • Anxiety
  • An overall sense of unease

Contrasted with celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten, and wheat allergy, an allergic reaction to wheat, are gluten intolerance and celiac disease, respectively. However, some ailments' signs and symptoms could be comparable.

Nonceliac gluten sensitivity is another name for gluten intolerance.

Salicylate sensitivity

Salicylates are substances found in a variety of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. They are frequently found in artificial preservatives and flavorings, such as those in toothpaste, gum, and candy.

The majority of people have a moderate tolerance for salicylates in their diets, however, others have a lower tolerance.

Some symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Tiredness
  • A runny nose
  • Weariness, and wheezing


People who have food intolerances frequently produce insufficient amounts of a certain digestive enzyme needed to break down a specific meal or substance. Why some people acquire food intolerances is a mystery to experts.

You can be more susceptible to food sensitivities if you have certain gastrointestinal disorders. These circumstances include:

  • Celiac illness.
  • Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are examples of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

How to check if you have Food Intolerance?

If any of the following occur, contact your healthcare professional right away:

  • Diarrhea or severe stomach ache.
  • Extreme response to a dish.
  • Unaccounted-for weight loss


Food intolerance symptoms include:

  • Belly (abdominal) pain
  • Diarrhea.
  • Bloating and gas.
  • Migraines or headaches.
  • Heartburn.
  • Nausea.
  • Uneasy stomach

The amount of food that a person with a food intolerance consumes has an impact on how severe their symptoms are.

Food intolerance symptoms might take some time to appear. The signs and symptoms might appear many hours after a meal and could linger for several hours or even days.

As the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances might be similar, it can be challenging to distinguish between the two.


To reduce or completely cut out harmful foods, you might need to alter your diet. Many persons who have food intolerances discover that eating little amounts of food results in minimal, if any, symptoms. Over-the-counter medications like antacids or antidiarrheals might be helpful when symptoms arise.

Lactose-free milk and dairy products are available for those who are lactose intolerant to ingest. Drug stores also sell lactase enzymes. To break down the lactose in milk, you can either take lactase tablets or add lactase drops straight to the milk.

If you have a food intolerance, attempt to stay away from or consume less of the offending foods, especially those whose constituents you can not tolerate.

It is crucial to get a doctor's or food and nutrition specialist's guidance before eliminating certain items from your child's or your own diet (dietitian).

This is due to the possibility that you or your child may be deficient in key vitamins and minerals that are crucial for a child's growth and development.

Complications of Food Intolerance

If lactose intolerant people fully avoid dairy products, they may not obtain adequate calcium and vitamin D. If you want to eat dairy products without experiencing stomach trouble, you can take supplements or buy lactase enzymes over the counter.

To make sure they obtain adequate fiber and other nutrients, such as B vitamins, in their diets, which are crucial for health, people who reduce their consumption of gluten-containing goods might need to consume more fresh produce, fruit, and gluten-free whole grains.

Contact doctors if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • An itchy, red, swollen, blistering, or peeling rash on the skin
  • Wheezing
  • Pressure in the chest or throat
  • Difficulty speaking or breathing; or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat.

You could be experiencing a severe allergic reaction and require emergency medical care.

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Page last reviewed: Mar 16, 2023

Next review due: Mar 16, 2025

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