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What Causes Food Intolerances?

Food intolerances are one of those things that, left unattended, can end up having a surprisingly large impact on your health and wellbeing. But what exactly causes food intolerances in the first place?

While some people develop food intolerances as a child and others become more intolerant to certain foods over time, the root cause of these intolerances is almost always the same. They normally develop due to a poor environment in our digestive system. What exactly does that mean?

Citizens of Your Gut

We have what is called a microbiome in our gut, which is made up of millions of microbes: bacteria, fungi and even viruses. There are hundreds of different species which call our digestive system home. Some perform beneficial jobs in our body, like converting the fibre we eat into the nutrients our body needs, while others produce enzymes to help digest our food.

Under the wrong circumstances, these microbes can multiply to harmful levels in our body. If there are too many harmful bugs, the pH level (the balance between acid and alkaline) in the gut can change, making it hard for our beneficial bugs to survive. These harmful microbes can also create toxic substances that make us feel unwell, leading to symptoms like headaches, brain fog, fatigue and poor sleep.

This means that if the environment in our digestive system becomes compromised due to stress, poor diet, medication, lack of nutrients or other factors, we can then start to develop food intolerances because we don’t have the ability to digest our food properly.

5 Potential Food Intolerance Triggers

There can be a number of factors involved in the development of food intolerances. While I’ve briefly mentioned a handful of these above, let me lay out these potential triggers in a bit more detail here:

  • Low stomach acid and/or a lack of digestive enzymes. This prevents you from breaking down your food properly, and the food effectively starts to rot in your intestines.

  • Stress. When we are stressed our body doesn’t want to stop and eat, so we produce less digestive enzymes. This, again, hinders us from breaking down our food properly.

  • Lack of essential nutrients needed for good digestion such as zinc. This can be due to poor absorption or an inadequate intake in your diet.

  • Use of antibiotics, or medication such as protein pump inhibitors or the oral contraceptive pill. These can potentially have a negative effect on your gut environment, inflaming the mucosal lining in your digestive tract and reducing the absorption of some essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

  • Not chewing your food properly, due to rushing while eating or not mindfully eating (e.g. being on a device while eating). Chewing your food properly helps to produce enzymes which break down and digest your food.


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