Food Intolerance Explained

Food Intolerance is an abnormal reaction to food [1] that occurs inside and outside of the digestive system.

The wide range of reactions includes depicted here pseudo-allergic effects [2] that can be caused by:

  • salicylates, biogenic amines (such as histamine, tyramine, serotonin etc.),
  • sulfites (present in wine and medications),
  • sodium glutamate (flavor enhancer),
  • colorants and preservatives (such as tartrazine, benzoates, sorbates etc.),
  • sweeteners (aspartame),
  • lack of enzymes.

Some adverse reactions to food can be confused with true food allergies. But unlike true food allergies, Food Intolerance responses do not involve immune system. In other words, IgE/IgG immunoglobulins do not modulate Food Intolerance reactions [3], and corresponding tests cannot be used to identify offensive foodstuffs.

There are several classes of Food Intolerance, which include metabolic reactions, anaphylactoid reactions, and idiosyncratic reactions [4].

Metabolic Reactions

Adverse reactions that result from a defect in the body’s ability to metabolize certain food components [4, 5]. An example of this is an intolerance to cheeses and milk.

Symptoms of dairy products intolerance include abdominal cramping, bloating, and flatulence.

Adverse reactions to consumption of dairy products may root in lactose intolerance resulting from a deficiency of the enzyme lactase. As a result, lactose cannot be metabolized and absorbed by the small intestine. Then, lactose passes into the colon, where bacteria metabolize it into carbon dioxide and water causing indigestion symptoms.

Some foods can have a negative impact on the metabolic system [8] manifesting in a variety of ways, due to a systemic incompatibility.

Please note that other components of the foodstuff, such as pesticides, colourings, or excessive bacterial load, also may be responsible for intolerance reactions.

Anaphylactoid Reactions

Result from the ingestion of substances that are high on histamine [6] and/or trigger release of histamine from cells within the body [4, 5] .

These reactions do not involve the IgE-mediated response. An example of this type of reaction is the strawberry reaction because it contains very little protein, no allergies have been identified, and there is no evidence of a strawberry-specific IgE [4]. Nevertheless, strawberries have been known to cause allergy-like symptoms. Therefore, an anaphylactoid reaction is a logical explanation.

Large doses of ingested histamine from cheese or spoiled fish can overwhelm the body’s ability to metabolize it [4], especially in those with histamine intolerance due to mast cell activation disorders and reduced ability to metabolize histamine [6]. The excess histamine is absorbed, enters the bloodstream, and causes symptoms very similar to food allergies (but not allergies!).

Idiosyncratic Reactions

Idiosyncratic reactions involve adverse reactions that occur in individuals via an unknown mechanism. The best example of this type of reaction is the sulfite-induced asthma [4, 5]. Although the mechanism of this reaction is unknown, the relationship of the food to the reaction has been well documented. Asthma is the most common symptom involved, following ingestion of sulfite.

Can I control food responses?

Dalhousie University report [7] confirms that about 10% of Canadians have food allergies, and about 20% suffer from a food intolerance. But the frightening fact is that about 50% of these cases are self-diagnosed! That means that in attempts to control food responses, people are self-medicating with long-term impact to their health, or go for restricting diets causing long-term problems and malnutrition.

So far, only about 25% of all identified Food Ignorance cases are addressed by the alternative health care practitioners, such as nutritionists. In our opinion, successful restoration of life quality requires efforts from all involved parties, and nutritionists play deciding part in it. But this may be a long, quite expensive, and tedious process that requires joint, synergetic effort from you and your health support team:

  • with the help of your general practitioner, you need to identify underlying conditions, such as mast cell activation disorder, liver abnormalities, IBS or structural problems – and address them accordingly
  • your allergist will help to find “true” allergies and delayed hypersensitivities through IgE/IgG tests, skin patch testing etc to identify foods which need to be excluded, likely indefinitely
  • your psychologist will help you to clean up psychological climate in your life, so you can identify and control factors affecting severity of exacerbations
  • your nutritionist will follow with you on elimination diet to identify Food Sensitivities and temporary exclude and re-introduce the foods (that may be the least pleasant for you and the lengthiest part)
  • your nutritionist will also help with assessment of your environment and deal with nutritional deficiencies

This process may take months, if not years, and cost thousands of dollars. Even worse, your body can incur irreparable damage, especially when you self-diagnose or self-medicate. So, is there a light in the end of the tunnel? Is it possible to go back to normal and predictably control your food response symptoms? The definite answer is: YES!

In other words, is Food Intolerance a disease to control?

No, it s not! As it is defined by Daphne Lab’s® [8], Food Intolerance is not a disease, and there is no pill against it, but there are solutions . This problem may be and needs to be controlled.

We can help with the lengthiest and the most unpleasant part, identification of offensive foods and substances and frequency of their consumption. Then, by giving your body a rest and changing frequency of ingestion, you are given a chance to step on the road to recovery, wellness, and improved life quality!


  1. Plant & Soil Sciences Library. Lesson: Non-Immunological Reactions. Downloaded on April 6, 2022
  2. Zopf, Y., Baenkler, H. W., Silbermann, A., Hahn, E. G., & Raithel, M. (2009). The differential diagnosis of food intolerance. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 106(21), 359–370.
  3. Mohamed H. Shamji, Rudolf Valenta, Theodore Jardetzky, Valerie Verhasselt, Stephen R. Durham, Peter A. Würtzen, R.J. Joost van Neerven. The role of allergen-specific IgE, IgG and IgA in allergic disease. Allergy, 10.1111/all.14908, 76, 12, (3627-3641), (2021).
  4. Lemke PJ, Taylor SL. Allergic reactions and food intolerances. In ‘Nutritional Toxicology,’ ed. FN Kotsonis, M Macke, J Hjelle, pp. 117-137.
  5. Metcalfe DD. Food hypersensitivity. J. Allergy Clin Immunol. 1984a. 63; 749-762.
  6. Kovacova-Hanuskova E, Buday T, Gavliakova S, Plevkova J. Histamine, histamine intoxication and intolerance. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015 Sep-Oct;43(5):498-506.
  7. Dalhousie University – Agri-Food Analytics Lab Report. Downloaded on April 11, 2022
  8. The FOOD INTOLERANCES: a path of knowledge. From Daphne Lab’s®. Downloaded on April 6, 2022

Help is on the way – be friends with your foods again!


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