One of the things many women are surprised to find when they hit menopause is that they can no longer eat certain foods. Foods they may have eaten their entire lives seem to cause a problem now. If you find this you may have a food intolerance.
What are food intolerances?
A food intolerance is when you have difficulty digesting certain foods. It is not the same as a food allergy. With food allergies you have an immune response, usually to a protein in a food. Sometimes with a food intolerance you are able to digest a small amount. With allergies any amount will usually cause a reaction.
What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?
Symptoms of food intolerances vary depending on the intolerance. The symptoms are not limited to the digestive issues of gas, cramps and bloating but also include migraines, headaches, stomach ache, stuffy nose, and weight gain.
What causes food intolerances?
There are several things that can cause food intolerances
- Lack of digestive enzymes that are needed to digest certain foods
- Stress can directly effect your gut lining making it more sensitive to certain foods
- Chemicals in foods (natural or additive) – some people are more susceptible to certain chemicals found in foods.
- Inflammation can lead to changes in the gut lining which may contribute to a food intolerance
How is this related to menopause?
The hormone changes that occur during menopause can affect digestion directly. Food travels more slowly through the digestive tract. Your body will also produce fewer digestive enzymes and less stomach acid as you age. Other menopause related symptoms like increased anxiety can also lead to poorer digestion. On the other hand food intolerances can increase the severity of menopause symptoms.
You may also find that although some foods do not cause digestive issues or other signs of food intolerances they do seem to trigger menopause symptoms.
What are the most common intolerances?
These are the most common food intolerances:
- Lactose (found in most milk products) intolerance is one of the most common intolerances. People with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme lactase which allows them to digest the lactose found in milk.
- Some people are intolerant to food additives such as nitrates, MSG and food dyes
- Gluten (found in wheat and some other grains) is a common intolerance
- Many women find that they cannot tolerate as much caffeine as they could previously.
- Amines such as histamines are common food intolerances. Histamine intolerance occurs when there is a build up of histamines in the body. There are a number of factors which can cause histamine intolerances. Histamine foods you may need to avoid include fermented foods, avocados and processed meats.
- FODMAPs are found in many foods including wheat, garlic, onions and beans. If you have irritable bowel syndrome then you may find that many FODMAP foods cause symptoms for you.
- Sulfites are found in wine, and some pickled foods and are also added to some foods
- Fructose is found naturally in fruit and is added to many processed foods and beverages
How can you determine if you have a food intolerance?
If you suspect you have a food intolerance you should consult your physician. There are tests which can determine some foods intolerances, but they are not as easy to detect as allergies. Tests like IgG tests have not been proven to show food intolerances.
Elimination diets are considered the gold standard for determining food intolerances. These take some time and should be done under the guidance of a registered dietician. Precision Nutrition gives instructions on how to do an elimination diet on your own here
You can also start by keeping a food journal to determine which foods seem to be causing the symptoms you are experiencing. Keep in mind that unlike allergic symptoms, food intolerance symptoms don’t usually show up immediately.
Are food intolerances permanent?
Food intolerances can be permanent, but they can sometimes be temporary. Sometimes after the gut is healed you may be able to slowly re-introduce the offending foods. You want to be careful with this and make sure you closely watch for any symptoms.
What can you do?
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above that seem unexplained, you may want to start with a detailed food journal to get a first idea of what foods might be causing your symptoms. Then armed with this knowledge talk to your physician or a dietician about trying an elimination diet. You can also try one on your own using the link above. Having help with the elimination diet can ensure that you are still getting the nutrients you need.