Food Intolerance

by Dr. Amir Hamzah Abdul Latiff

Several hours after a delightful dinner, your child begins having abdominal pains and severe diarrhoea. As the tears stream down your child's face, you start to panic. Is your child suffering from a food allergy?

Before you jump to any conclusions, take a step back. While the prevalence of food allergy has increased dramatically in many countries over the years, especially among children, food intolerance still remains a much more common problem.

Food intolerance is generally less severe than food allergy. In fact, almost everyone at one time or another has had an unpleasant reaction to something they ate.

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While food intolerance may not be life threatening, it is a cause of concern for growing children as it may limit their access to certain important nutrients that are essential to their development.

Ask a Clinical Allergist

If you suspect your child is suffering from either food allergy or food intolerance, seek professional help to help you differentiate between the two.

While there are many 'DIY' testing kits/methods in the market claiming to be able to diagnose food allergies and food intolerance, a clinical allergist is still the best-qualified professional to diagnose either condition.

What is Food Intolerance?

Food intolerance refers to the adverse reaction(s) that people have to certain foods or ingredients that they consume. These reactions may range from simple bouts of burping, to a case of full-blown diarrhoea that occurs every time the food is eaten, especially if in large quantities.

Food intolerance happens when something in a food irritates a person's digestive system or when a person is unable to properly breakdown the food. Thus, food intolerance is actually a digestive system response.

How do I Know if it is Food Intolerance?

As food intolerance is a digestive system response, most of the symptoms are also associated with digestive health problems. Watch out if your child experiences unpleasant symptoms such as :

* frequent burping
* nausea
* vomiting
* bloating
* abdominal pain
* diarrhoea

These symptoms may develop quickly - within minutes of food consumption - or take up to a few days to manifest. Usually, they will worsen as they develop.

Watch out!

If your child develops symptoms such as skin reactions and breathing difficulties, bring him to the doctor immediately as your child may be suffering from a food allergy. Food allergies are immune system responses that should not be taken lightly as they can elicit a sudden and fatal reaction.

How Food Intolerance Occurs

Food intolerance can be caused by a few factors. The most common is a lack of enzymes that are needed to digest certain foods.

Enzymes are proteins produced by our bodies to break down food that we consume. When there is a lack or inadequate amount of a specific enzyme, some food may remain undigested and in larger components in the small intestines.

As a result, the level of fluid and salts in the large intestines increases. This helps the naturally occurring bacteria in our large intestine to ferment the undigested food into acids. This may cause symptoms of food intolerance such as bloating and abdominal pains.

Apart from that, food intolerance may also be a result of the chemical ingredients that are added to some food to enhance their taste and provide colour. As these ingredients are not naturally occurring, the body, especially the child's body, may not be able to tolerate them.

It is important to be aware that it may not be a particular food itself, but the ingredients it contains that are causing the symptoms.

Parents, Take Note!

Food intolerance can begin at any age and it may run in families. Though you may not be able to control how and when it manifests, you can definitely play a big role in reducing your child's risk of experiencing food intolerance.

Breast milk is best

Breastfeed your child exclusively for as long as possible, especially in the first 6 months of his life. This works well as primary prevention for food intolerance as well as food allergy.

Not only is breast milk considered the most nutritious source of food for your child, it is dense with antioxidants that will boost Bifidus bacteria (Bifidobacteria) in the gut, keeping the intestinal lining healthy. Additionally, breast milk also contains fewer foreign proteins that will irritate your child's digestive system. So feeding your child breast milk lowers the chance of you feeding your child something that his body may not be able to tolerate.

Cook healthy

Eating out increases your child's risk of suffering from food intolerance, as you may not be aware of the additives or ingredients that are being used. Instead of eating out, make it a habit to cook your own meals for your child. Not only will you be able to control the ingredients used, you will be able to ensure that your child receives a wholesome and nutritious diet.

While preparing meals, always remember to check the food labels and ingredients for suspected triggers.

Watch the quantity

If you have figured out the specific food(s) that trigger your child's food intolerance, the next best step would be to avoid serving it. However, certain foods are needed for growth and it would not be wise to eliminate these completely. If your child is intolerant to such a food, try serving it in a much smaller amount, but more frequently.

Food intolerance can be very difficult to deal with as different people may develop different reactions. If your child has food intolerance, be aware of the food that goes into his mouth, whether you do or do not know if it may cause a bad reaction. Learn to identify the risk factors and ways of managing it early in your child's life, rather than trying to treat them later.

More info on FOOD INTOLERANCE here.

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