How to Define Food Intolerance – What it is and What it is not
The other day one of our readers asked us to define food intolerance for them. They and their general practitioner were struggling to work out if the stomach issues they were having were down to a full-blown food allergy or just a heightened sensitivity to certain foods.
Naturally, we suggested that the best way to find out would be to test for the most common food allergens and look for reactions. If the reaction was very mild then that could be defined as a intolerance rather than an allergy.
Once that had been done, they could then follow an elimination diet to narrow things down further, if necessary. This seemed to satisfy our reader, who really just wanted to be sure they were heading in the right direction.
However, it did leave us scratching our heads a bit and asking ourselves, so how exactly do you define food intolerance? It actually is a good question and one that is not that easy to answer. Something that we found out when writing this page.
The dictionary definition of food intolerance
We started our search for an answer with a good old fashioned dictionary. No luck there, none of the dictionaries, including the medical ones seemed to have a definition listed.
So next we did a good old Google search for ‘define food intolerance’. Bingo that search term brings back the Wikipedia page for food intolerance, which at the time of writing this page, has a pretty good definition of what food sensitivity or intolerance is. The text says it is:
a detrimental reaction to a food, beverage, food additive or other compound found in food that produces symptoms in one or more body organs.
Not a bad definition, and it is certainly one that works for us. Of course, given the fact that Wikipedia pages are regularly updated the wording changes on a regular basis. But, usually, this particular page on the web is quite helpful. If you have a doctor that is not familiar with non-allergic food hypersensitivity, and is struggling to see it as a possibility, he or she may benefit from reading that page.
Differentiating between food intolerances and allergies
Perhaps the only problem with this definition is that it does not say anything about the strength of the symptoms. This is a shame. After all, that is the difference between a food allergy and intolerance. If your lips only tingle when you eat something the chances are you are sensitive to that food. But, if your lips swell you are almost certainly suffering from a full-blown food allergy. In that situation, you should never eat that food because each time your adverse reaction is likely to get progressively worse. Eventually, you may find that your tongue swells and that your airway starts to close.
Science will improve how we define food intolerance
Unfortunately, at the moment non-allergic food hypersensitivity is not fully understood by the medical community. That is why it is so hard to find information on the subject. That includes a proper definition of what the condition is.
However, things are changing. The condition is becoming more common. As are other digestion related conditions like IBS and leaky gut.
This means that there is ongoing research being done in the area. Therefore, the chances are that as new discoveries are made the definition of what food intolerance is will change. This is good news for people like us who suffer from the condition.
As understanding improves we will work to keep you abreast of those developments and update you about changes that will help you.
How do you define food intolerance?
If you can define food intolerance better than this, please share it. Of, if you have experience of explaining it to professionals who are not familiar with the condition we would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. We are sure that your experiences will help both us and other readers of this site.