Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Food sensitivities and intolerances are common, and they appear to be on the rise. It’s believed that up to 20% of the world’s population suffers from food intolerance, according to a study. The study “The differential diagnosis of food intolerance“ was published in the Deutsches Ärzteblatt International journal in May 2009.
Due to the vast spectrum of symptoms, food intolerances can be challenging to diagnose and are often confused with stomach bugs. Here is an overview of the most prevalent forms of food intolerances, their symptoms, and the foods to avoid.
What Is A Stomach Bug?
A stomach bug is an intestinal infection characterized by watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, and, in rare cases, fever. The causative factor can be viruses, bacteria, or parasites.
Contact with an infected person or eating contaminated food or water is the most common way to get a stomach bug, otherwise known as gastroenteritis. Healthy individuals can recuperate without any problems.
However, stomach bugs, especially viral infections, can be fatal in newborns, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. As there is no cure for viral gastroenteritis, prevention is essential. Avoid contaminated food and water, and wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
What Is Food Intolerance?
Food intolerance is sometimes misinterpreted as a stomach bug. Another term used in the same context is food allergies. Although some symptoms are similar, food intolerance is different from a food allergy.
In food intolerance, symptoms generally appear within a few hours after ingesting the intolerant food. However, symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear and might continue for hours or even days, as per the study “Food intolerances and eosinophilic esophagitis in childhood“, published in Springer Link in 2009.
A stomach bug can also occur due to lacking certain enzymes in the digestive system. Food intolerance indicates aggravation of gastrointestinal diseases like Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It may be challenging to link symptoms to a specific item if consumption of intolerant foods is regular.
Food intolerances can cause several symptoms, but the skin, digestive and respiratory systems are the most common. In general, the symptoms of stomach bugs include abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas, bloating, headaches, migraines, heartburn, nausea, and an upset stomach.
Food Intolerance VS Stomach Bug
Food intolerance can be attributed to lactose intolerance and lacking enzymes required for the digestion of proteins in food. Intolerance to chemical additives that produce color, improve taste, and prevent microbial development are widespread. Various colors and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a taste enhancer, are causative components.
After consuming specific meals or drinks, food intolerance can cause stomach distress and other digestive difficulties. However, most people with food intolerances can eat tiny amounts of such items without experiencing unpleasant side effects.
Bacteria, parasites, poisons, and viruses can be causative factors for a stomach bug. However, the most prevalent cause is viruses. Adults are commonly infected with norovirus, whereas children are infected with rotavirus. These viruses affect the small intestinal lining.
Diarrhea is the most common symptom of gastroenteritis. Other symptoms include pain or cramping in the abdomen (belly), nausea, vomiting, fever, body pains, and a headache. Fever is an indication that your body is attempting to combat a stomach bug. You may have sweating, chills, headache, or soreness.
Stool examination or sigmoidoscopy is helpful in the diagnosis of bacteria, viruses, and parasites responsible for a stomach bug.
Rest and being hydrated are essential to feeling better quickly. If the stomach is still unsettled, one can sip tiny amounts of water, juice, or broth frequently or chew on ice chips. It’s crucial to remember that in severe cases of diarrhea, water alone may not be enough to maintain hydration. In such cases, hydration, along with supplemental electrolytes, is essential.
Food intolerance treatment involves avoiding or minimizing intake of certain foods and addressing symptoms by taking an antacid for heartburn or stomach ache.
Elimination diets designed to narrow down intolerant foods or other testing procedures are of use in detecting food intolerances.
Research has been conducted on an elimination diet. The study ” Restriction and Elimination Diets in ADHD Treatment ” was published in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America in October 2014.
Elimination diets exclude foods typically associated with intolerances for a brief period or until symptoms disappear. Foods are then reintroduced one at a time while monitoring symptoms of food intolerance. This diet assists in determining which food or items are causing the symptoms.
Food Intolerance Vs Food Allergy
After consuming specific meals or drinks, food intolerance can cause stomach distress and other digestive difficulties. An intolerance to a food is not the same as an allergy to a food. Food allergies trigger a life-threatening immune system reaction.
Most people with food intolerances can eat tiny amounts of such items without experiencing unpleasant side effects. An elimination diet and a food diary might help determine whether you have a food intolerance
Common Types Of Food Intolerance
The following are the most prevalent food intolerances:
Lactose is a sugar present in dairy products such as milk. Lactose is broken down in the body by an enzyme called lactase, required for normal digestion and absorption. Lactose intolerance is due to a lack of lactase enzymes, which prevents lactose from being digested, resulting in digestive discomfort.
Diarrhea, bloating, and gas are the digestive symptoms of lactose intolerance. The study “Lactose intolerance: diagnosis, genetic, and clinical factors“ was published in Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology in March 2012.
Gluten is a term that refers to proteins present in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Wheat allergies and celiac disease are misunderstood due to their similar symptoms.
A gluten-free diet is used to treat celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It entails avoiding gluten-containing meals and items daily. Gluten intolerance can cause a variety of symptoms, including stomach discomfort, bloating, and headaches.
Caffeine is a bitter substance in coffee, soda, tea, and energy drinks. It’s a stimulant, which means that when you take it, you’ll feel less tired and more alert.
Caffeine is absorbed in most without any ill effects.
Some people, however, are more sensitive to caffeine and have negative responses even to a modest amount. Caffeine hypersensitivity is related to genetics and a reduced capacity to metabolize and eliminate caffeine.
The research titled “No thanks, coffee keeps me awake”: Individual caffeine sensitivity depends on ADORA2A Genotype” was published in the Sleep journal in July 2012.
After eating even a tiny amount of caffeine, people with caffeine hypersensitivity may suffer symptoms of anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia. Caffeine-sensitive people should limit their consumption of caffeine-containing beverages.
Amines are formed by bacteria during the storage and fermentation of foods. Though there are many other forms of amines, histamine is the most commonly linked to food intolerances. Histamine protects the body from infection by triggering an inflammatory response in reaction to allergens.
The common cause for histamine intolerance is the altered activity of enzymes responsible for histamine breakdown. The study “Histamine and histamine intolerance“ was published in The Clinical Journal of American Nutrition in May 2007.
Most individuals digest and absorb these well. However, some fail to adequately break down histamine, leading it to build up in the body.
Sulfites are compounds used as preservatives in foods, beverages, and some drugs. Some foods, such as grapes and old cheeses, contain them naturally. Sulfites in foods and beverages are tolerated by most. Persons with asthma are more likely to be sensitive to sulfites, although people without asthma might also be intolerant.
According to a study, hives, swelling, stuffy nose, flushing, diarrhea, wheezing, and coughing are all common signs of sulfite sensitivity. The study titled “Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives” was published in Gastroenterology and Hepatology from Bed to Bench in 2018.
In asthmatic individuals with sulfite sensitivity, sulfites can induce airway constriction and, in severe cases, life-threatening responses. Many foods and food additives are intolerable to certain people. Food colorings, eggs, aspartame, and sugar alcohols can be food-intolerant substances.
Food intolerances are not the same as a stomach bug. Most food intolerances do not activate the immune system, and their symptoms are generally milder. They can affect your health and need medical intervention. A stomach bug, on the other hand, has more severe symptoms but for a shorter duration. Stomach bugs, most often than not, need medical intervention and therapy.
Dairy products, caffeine, and gluten are all foods individuals are intolerant to.
If you suspect a food intolerance, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about testing and treatment options. Food intolerances, while less alarming than stomach bugs, can significantly impact your quality of life.
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