www.health.usnews.com - July 17th, 2012
Once upon a time, when having a dinner party, the only accommodation a thoughtful host had to make was to consider the occasional vegetarian. But times certainly have changed.
Nowadays, it seems everyone has a restricted diet of some sort. Some people avoid milk for a variety of reasons—either due to lactose intolerance, an inability to digest the milk sugar in dairy products, or concerns that dairy makes them congested. Gluten—the main protein found in wheat—is increasingly being shunned by health-conscious consumers who believe it to be a "toxin" responsible for everything from bloating and weight gain to poor energy and "brain fogs." And the latest newcomer to the food intolerance scene is fructose—the primary sugar in fruit juice, honey, agave nectar, and high-fructose corn syrup—which research suggests may be poorly digested in up to 30 percent of the Caucasian population.
It seems we're a nation suffering from a case of collective indigestion. And it raises a few important questions. What is a food intolerance? Is food intolerance truly on the rise? Is there something real behind this trend, or is it all in our minds?
Unlike true food allergies, which involve a systemic and potentially life-threatening immune response to the protein in an offending food, a food intolerance tends to trigger symptoms which are unpleasant, but not dangerous per se. While food allergies only affect an estimated 1 to 4 percent of adults in the United States, experts believe that adverse reactions to food that do not involve the immune system—sometimes called food sensitivities or food intolerances—may affect significantly more people. These non-immune food intolerances may result from poor digestibility due to low enzyme levels, as is the case with lactose intolerance, or from an adverse chemical reaction to naturally-occurring components in foods or their preservatives, such as with histamine or sulfite sensitivity. To complicate matters, reliable tests to diagnose a non-immune food intolerance are only available for a small number of foods, which makes assessing the existence of these conditions a largely subjective exercise.