Food Intolerance – What Is It, Causes & How to Deal With It
Baby food allergies are some of the conditions that often worry parents to no end. However, there is another condition that you need to watch out for in your baby: food intolerance. To help you in dealing with this one, we have created this guide.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance, also referred to as non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity, is a condition where your baby has difficulty in digesting certain kinds of food. As the name implies, this is not triggered by the faulty functioning of the Immunoglobulin-E antibody, which is the main cause of food allergies. This is one of the major distinctions between the two conditions.
But, to further definite the distinction between food allergies and food tolerances,: the former is a reaction of the immune system towards what it identifies as foreign material. On the other hand, the latter is a primarily a problem of the digestive system.
Another major difference between the two is how they manifest. Food allergies happen almost suddenly and can b e triggered by even a small amount of the particular food your baby is allergic to. They will also likely to occur whenever you eat the particular food and, depending on the severity of the attack, can be life-threatening. On the other hand, food intolerances appear gradually and may only be triggered after frequently eating large amounts of the triggering food. Also, the condition is not life threatening.
What are the symptoms?
One reason why food intolerances can sometimes be difficult to detect the first time around is that it shares similar symptoms with food allergies. Hence, what might be initially mistaken for an allergy might actually be an intolerance. The common symptoms found in the two conditions are:
- Stomach pains
To be sure your baby is indeed having a bout of food intolerance, you should check if he has the following additional symptoms:
- Gas, cramps, or bloating
- Irritability or nervousness
What causes intolerances?
As it is, there are many different reasons why your baby can become intolerant to a particular food. Some of these reasons are as follows:
1. Lack of enzymes
Enzymes are the chemicals that help break down food in the stomach. There is a variety of enzymes that break down particular proteins in the food we eat. Hence, a lack of any of these can lead to difficulty in digestion. A common example of this form of intolerance in babies is lactose intolerance due to insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which helps digest food. Another form of enzyme deficiency-based that has been found common in children is fructose intolerance.
2. Chemical intolerance
In some cases, the chemicals present in food can become the trigger for intolerance attacks. For example, certain foods like cheese contain amines that can result in symptoms if your baby is sensitive to these. There are also certain foods that might contain naturally-occurring histamines, which can also trigger reactions.
While your baby might not be intolerant to specific foods, there are still toxins in the food that he eats to might trigger symptoms. For example, undercooked beans have high amounts of aflatoxin which can cause intolerances. Hence, it is advised that you carefully and thoroughly cook food meant for your baby to ensure that all toxins are removed from them.
4. Food additives
With the spread of processed foods, food intolerance caused by additives used in these. Some of the food additives that have been known to cause intolerance symptoms as well as other conditions in young children:
- Nitrates-causes itching and skin rashes
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)-can cause headaches
- Some food colorings
- Certain Preservatives
However, it should be noted that additive-related food intolerance is estimated to affect only around 1% percent of the population. Still, it would be best to keep additive-laden foods at a minimum for your young one.
Diagnosing food intolerance
As is with dealing with food allergies, once you suspect your baby is suffering from intolerance, it is best to remove the food item you think is causing it. Immediately contact your paediatrician for a diagnosis.
As have been noted earlier, food intolerance can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from an allergy. Hence, your paediatrician might use either a skin prick test or a blood test to determine the presence of immunoglobulin E in the body. do note that both tests are not 100% reliable, so the doctor will likely conduct additional testing to be sure of the diagnosis.
Here, the best method is going to be an exclusion diet. In this one, the suspected food is taken out of your baby’s diet for a set period, usually around a couple of months. The likely food is determined based on whether the symptoms subside once it is removed from the food options. As this can take a long while, having a diary of what your baby eats can be helpful to your paediatrician.
As it is currently, there is no definitive medical treatment for intolerance. The best that you can do is to either remove the particular food totally from your child’s diet or serve only small amounts infrequently. Your child’s doctor can also prescribe certain supplements that can improve digestion.
However, tolerance can be improved over time. Staying away from the offending food for a while can actually build a tolerance to it the next time your baby eats it. Be prepared though, as building and maintaining tolerance can take several years, in which case, you have to train your kid to recognize how much of a particular food he can eat before the symptoms set in again.