Food Intolerance

14 August, 2023

By Alison Cowell

A food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. Just as it has always done, the body needs to let us know when we are being invaded or attacked. With an allergic response, the body releases chemicals (histamine or anaphylaxis) which trigger an immediate symptom. You might feel a tingling sensation on your lips or tongue, you might notice welts appearing- in the worst-case scenario, your oesophagus would close and you'd suffer an anaphylactic shock. So, people with allergies usually know they have them!
Intolerances are different. When you eat a food that you are intolerant to, your immune system perceives specific food molecules as "˜invaders'. This affects the autonomic nervous system (our inbuilt "˜fight or flight' response) and for a split second we are on full alert. At this precise time, our muscles "˜fail', we produce adrenalin and we also produce antibodies if the invader is entering our system. All of this takes place without us noticing! Yet the impact is immense. In your small intestine, you have trillions of villi, little finger-like protrusions that help distribute the nutrients to your cells. When you are intolerant to a food and experience the "˜fight or flight "˜response, as all your muscles fail, so do the villi. They immediately lay flat. When that happens, all your nutrients pass through your system without ever reaching the cells they were destined to feed. Once the danger has passed, the villi stand upright again - and you haven't noticed a thing.
The first symptom you may feel is hunger; you've had a hearty breakfast at 7.30am but by 9.00am you are ravenous. That's because you didn't absorb the nutrients from your breakfast. You might also notice tiredness - one of those days you are struggling through, yawning, unable to concentrate and feeling generally blah. Hunger and tiredness are common symptoms of food intolerances but not always investigated. Perhaps the symptom that may get your attention is when digestive discomfort. You may experience anything from bloating and gas, reflux and heartburn to irregular bowel movements caused by inflammation and damage to your intestinal tract. Before rushing off for Gaviscon, Omeprazole or Wind-Eze, consider having a food intolerance test.
There are various methods to test for food intolerance, including blood test, PST (percutaneous skin testing), hair analysis and muscle testing (applied kinesiology).
When I first heard about muscle testing I was very sceptical. I Googled it (as you do!) and concluded that it was a load of old twaddle. When it was included in one of the courses I was studying I was less than impressed, but went along with it because it was part of the course and I wasn't studying in order to set up a practice (ha!) or go preaching to the world (double ha!). I was studying because I was so very unwell and the only advice I had been given was to "˜take this medication for the rest of your life'. During my studies, muscle testing revealed that I was intolerant to eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms. The test required that I eliminate them from my diet. I did so......and I could not believe the impact! Almost immediately my intense fatigue lifted and my digestive system improved dramatically. Could it be that simple? Yes, it could. From that time on I have never needed any medication to manage my symptoms of ulcerative colitis and have been in complete remission. As time went by, I re-introduced all of them and can now enjoy a lovely vegetarian breakfast featuring all three. However, if I am feeling rundown or that something is "˜not quite right' in my body, then I eliminate them until I feel my system is more settled.
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was by this - this very simple - revelation! I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Why weren't we taking intolerances more seriously? Sure, I had been tested for coeliac disease (extreme intolerance to gluten) as part of the many tests I had whilst they were trying to figure out why I was so unwell. (For many years, my doctor had dismissed all my symptoms as a combination of "˜part of menopause' and IBS, and I had believed him until I was so debilitated and it was evident that not all pre-menopausal women were in a constant state of collapse!). I didn't have an issue with gluten, nor indeed with dairy. Nope. I had issues with the very healthy organic eggs, home-grown tomatoes and mushrooms that made up a large part of my vegetarian diet. I have featured some amazing case studies in my latest blog at

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