Food intolerance is a negative physiological reaction to certain foods or drink that can result in decreased functioning of the digestive system. Poor digestion can affect the body in many ways; heartburn, gastric reflux, fatigue, mental confusion, attention deficit disorder, excess body weight and a poor response to exercise are but a few of the common side effects. Yet many people never associate their symptoms with what they are putting in their mouths.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergies

Food intolerance is much more common today than in the past. It is generally found in two sets of people: those who eat one or more foods that produce an allergic response, and those with compromised immune systems. Compromised immunity is rampant today, not just from illness but also due to both the high intake of pesticide residues and farming chemicals in our food and water, as well as the drastically increased consumption of synthetic foods and food additives, preservatives, colourings, emulsifiers and thickeners! Because the symptoms of food intolerance are so diverse and may only appear after repeated exposure to the foods in question, many people are not aware of their food intolerances. Conversely, food allergies generally produce immediate, and sometimes life-threatening reactions. People who have an allergy to a particular food, usually know it, and steer well clear of the food in question!

Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome is a digestive condition that can be caused by food intolerance, as well as by all forms of stress, overuse of medical drugs and eating low quality processed foods. In a leaky gut, there is separation of the tight junctions between the cells of the gut wall .

This allows undigested or partially digested food particles to cross the gut wall. Once in the blood, these particles become antigens which then activate the immune system. Antibodies grab hold of the antigen (undigested food particle). Antibodies can attach to multiple antigens. Then cross-linking occurs, creating an immune complex. Eventually there is an inflammatory response with the release of histamine. This brings other immune cells to the area, such as phagocytes which can see, surround and destroy the large size immune complex.

Antigen Overload!

Normally, your first line of defence against antigens is the secretory IgA (sIgA) antibodies found in the mucus membranes lining your digestive and respiratory tracts. The IgA antibodies protect their territory much like the Native American Indians did from cowboys. As the number of invading cowboys (antigens or undigested food particles) try to impose upon the Indian’s (sIgA) territory, the Indian adds more warriors. As the number of cowboys invading the Indian village (digestive system) increases, the amount of damage done, trying to win the war increases. This is exactly what happens when more and more antigens arrive in the gut, due to continual eating of the offending food(s) or drink(s).

sIgA antibodies are non-inflammatory, but they do signal for help from other immune cells, such as IgG, IgM and others, which do produce an inflammatory response. The immune system’s response quickly becomes heated, much like a firefight between battling soldiers. Paradoxically, as described in the book Enzymes, The Foundation of Life, when the number of immune complexes entering the blood stream reaches a certain point, the immune antibody system shuts down and a reduction in the activity of key immune soldiers called macrophages and phagocytes follows. (Ref.1)

This is one of the reasons people with many kinds of food intolerance and intestinal inflammation suffer from malaise yet can’t describe a specific reaction to offending foods. As intestinal wall leakage continues, more food antigens, chemicals, food additives, etc. make it into the portal vein, the large vein that leads from the gut to the liver. As you can see in Figure 5, up until about one hundred years ago, the liver dealt only with organic substances that it recognised. Today, the liver is overwhelmed in many cases with the sheer number of food particles, synthetic and organic chemicals it must process. Brostoff states that, “Someone who is eating an average diet and drinking unfiltered tap water is likely to ingest and be exposed to at least 200 different synthetic chemicals and chemical cocktails every day.” (Ref. 2) (Realise that this does not include the huge number of organic chemicals present in our foods, nor those caused by the use of microwave ovens and irradiation of foods!)

When the liver cannot process food antigens and immune complexes, some of these particles pass into general circulation. Current food intolerance theories suggest that when the immune system becomes overworked it will prioritize resources to handle the most threatening issue at hand. When this happens, immune complexes find their way into joint tissues, organ tissues, nerve tissues and anywhere else accessible via the micro-circulatory system, where they settle causing inflammation.

The result is activation of the complement system. The complement system is an enzyme system composed of killer enzymes. These enzymes (Figure 6) seek and destroy immune complexes embedded in the tissues. Unfortunately, they aren’t specific to the immune complex; they also attack the tissues they’re imbedded in. The result is identical to an autoimmune disorder. In addition, capillary leakage from inflammation results in fluid retention in subcutaneous tissues, causing the appearance of cellulite!

Prolonged activation of the complement system will produce chronic inflammation, which means chronic pain. In my experience, many patients seeking assistance from orthopaedic doctors, therapists or chiropractors for unresolved chronic musculoskeletal pain are likely expressing the symptoms of food intolerance and/or chemical sensitivity concomitant with gastrointestinal disorders.

Unfortunately, it’s common to treat such chronic inflammatory pain with anti-inflammatory drugs or cortisone. Anti-inflammatory drugs often produce gastrointestinal inflammation as a side effect. Further inflammation increases leaky gut, which, in turn, produces additional symptoms! In addition, cortisone is an immune suppressant.

Suppressing your immune defences leaves the door wide open for opportunistic organisms embed themselves in the crypts or folds of your intestinal tract. Here, unfriendly bacteria and parasites have a feast on the food your inflamed gut is unable to digest. You soon begin to accumulate an increasing number of food allergy and intolerance symptoms. In the wrong hands, you will also acquire a laundry list of drugs to take every day.

I actually had a client taking 16 different prescription drugs at once, and not one single doctor or therapist had EVER addressed the basics of health and digestion with her! Eventually, cancer, autoimmune disorders and any number of diseases will present themselves. If a natural, functional alternative is not soon applied, it’s simply a matter of time before the disease appears. The symptoms are the body’s cry for help!

food intolerenace may be making you tired and fatFood Intolerance and Your Stubborn Paunch Belly!

As you can see when pain impulses come from the small intestine, bowel or any organ of digestion, there may be some level of inhibition (weakness) and possibly pain in the corresponding region of the abdominal wall. It is important to remember food intolerances commonly cause inflammation in the gut. The greater the level of inflammation in your digestive system, the greater the likelihood that your abdominal muscles will not respond to exercise.

Visit any gym and you’ll find scores of people who train regularly to shape their bodies only to have distended bellies and often comparatively unattractive torsos. If you do not investigate possible food intolerances and address them, then you will not get the results you desire, no matter how much time you spend exercising, nor how many expensive vitamins and sports supplements you consume. Even those who consume a small fortune in organic foods can continue to struggle with their health! When you have an inflamed gut, then just because you put it in your mouth doesn’t mean it actually makes it so far as to benefit your body. In order to get results in the gym, you must first address any digestive issues (Figure 7B).

Taking Action Against Food Allergy and Intolerance

Blood Tests

We are one of only a hand full of companies that conduct MRT blood testing to determine food allergy and food intolerance. It is essential to have a skilled practitioner to guide you through the process , as there is a fair amount of patient education and additional dietary management involved in restoring gut health and eliminating chronic gut inflammation. At Thrive we can undertake this testing & coaching for you, contact us to find out more here

Elimination and Rotation Diets

The least expensive way to begin clearing yourself of food allergies and intolerance is by going on either an elimination or rotation diet. The end of one size fits all diets.An elimination diet calls for the exclusion of suspected problem foods for 8-12 weeks. If you aren’t sure which foods to eliminate, it is best to start with all foods containing gluten. Gluten is found in all grains except corn, rice, buckwheat and millet. Dr. Bill Timmins of Biohealth Diagnostics Laboratory in San Diego, California has found that between 50-60% of all white-skinned people and approximately 40% of coloured people are gluten intolerant.

At the same time, it is a good idea to cut out any form of processed dairy for at least two weeks and see how you feel. If eliminating gluten and dairy don’t make a substantial difference, your next step is to remove the two food items you most commonly eat or drink, also for two weeks. Keep working through your normal food list until you have identified the culprit foods through the process of elimination. Once you have identified a questionable food or foods and stayed off it for at least two weeks, reintroduce them one at a time and eat them alone initially.

If side effects develop from eating the recently reintroduced food, you’re probably still intolerant to that particular food and should avoid eating it for at least three months, at which time you can retry it. If you do this twice and don’t respond favourably, you may need a year away from the food before you can safely eat it again, if you can at all!

A rotation diet requires that you don’t eat foods from the same genetic family more than once every four days. For example, if you eat lamb on Monday, you would not eat it again until Friday. True rotation dieting requires that foods be grouped by taxonomic or genetic relationships so that you don’t repeatedly stimulate the immune system with foods of the same genetic family. There is some skill and training involved in administering rotation diets properly, so it is best to consult a Thrive Holistic Health Coach.

Enzyme Therapies

Current research on the use of enzyme therapies shows that the correctly prescribed type and dose of enzymes will act to break down immune complexes into smaller clusters. For unknown reasons, when the enzymes reduce the number and size of immune complexes in the blood and tissues, the antibody system is triggered back into action. (Consult a Naturopathic Physician for enzyme recommendations.)

CHEK Points for a Healthy Digestion

To improve digestion, gut health and rid yourself of unwanted food intolerances, follow these practical suggestions:

  1. Never watch the news while you eat! In fact, never watch anything on TV while you eat unless you’re sure it’s going to be funny or make you feel good. Avoid watching sporting events while you eat, especially if you have an emotional attachment to the outcome. The excitement of watching your favourite team will likely cause that fight-or-flight response which shuts down digestion—especially if they lose!
  2. Don’t read technical or stressful material while you eat. Reading the newspaper is just like watching the news and will yield the same effect. In fact, if you ate the newspaper, your digestion would probably be better than if you read it while you ate! If you wish to read, read something that makes you happy, something inspirational or something spiritually stimulating.

    If you have poor eyesight, wear glasses or contacts—it’s not a good idea to read at all while you eat because the eyes require a lot of energy to run and can drain energy needed for digestion.
  3. Play relaxing music. Either classical music or music with a one second beat (such as that from the Baroque period of classical music), or new age music that has no discernible beat (you can’t hum to it), is relaxing to the body and will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system – the part that activates the digestive system.

    Research from Johns Hopkins University has revealed that rock music causes people to eat faster and to consume larger portions, while classical music—especially slow string music—causes the opposite effect. (Ref. 3)
  4. Drink two glasses of clean, chlorine-free water 15 minutes before each meal.
    Always avoid drinking alcohol before meals. When alcohol of any form enters your digestive system in the absence of proteins and fats, it irritates the gut and can lead to leaky gut syndrome, setting you up for food intolerance and a host of other problems. Also avoid drinking coffee or other stimulants before eating. These drinks cause the activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which in turn shuts down digestion. If that isn’t bad enough, a release of insulin from the pancreas and liberation of blood sugar from the liver results. Therefore, anything you eat is likely to be shuttled into fat cells, which means you’ll probably end up wearing it!
  5. Limit use of dehydrated foods and re-hydrate nuts, seeds and dried foods such as fruit, grains and legumes by soaking them for 12- 24 hours before eating. (Ref. 4). This deactivates enzyme blockers that keep nuts, seeds and grains from germinating until they are in the correct environment. It’s also a good idea to flash boil dried fruits once re-hydrated to minimize your chances of parasite infestation. Dehydrated foods quite often get stuck to the colon wall. My good friend and associate David Webster, colon hygienist and author of Achieve Maximum Health, has seen nuts, grains, popcorn, seeds and just about every form of dried food you can think of come out the tail pipe while administering a high colonic. (Ref. 5). Interestingly, many of his clients had not eaten some of what he was seeing come out of their colons for as long as seven years!
  6. Avoid foods that you’re intolerant or allergic to.
  7. Thoroughly chew your food until liquefied.
  8. Eat smaller meals more often. A number of nutritional experts today suggest that the body can only break down a given amount of protein at any one sitting. They feel that eating smaller portions and dining five or six times a day makes for much better digestion and absorption. Personally, I feel there may be variances among people as to how much protein they can digest, just as there are tremendous differences in the amount of alcohol one can tolerate.

    Hypoglycaemia is also a growing concern. The onset of hypoglycaemia is largely due to the over-consumption of simple carbohydrates in drinks and foods, as well as the consumption of drinks laced with caffeine and similar stimulants. Those with poor blood sugar handling capacity almost always find their concentration and overall level of well being improved when eating more frequent, smaller meals.
  9. Never suppress the urge. According to Dr. Tom Benteen, you can entrain (change the timing of, or teach) any physiological system in as little as 7-21 days. (Ref. 6). This means that if you suppress the urge to defecate each day for as little as a week to three weeks, you can cause a permanent traffic jam in your intestinal tract. This is sure to disrupt digestion, inhibit absorption of nutrients and increase your chances of toxicity through the bowel.
  10. Whenever possible, start your meal with raw (live) foods. All raw foods, such as fresh ingredients from a salad, contain enzymes that are beneficial to digestion. Pineapple and papaya contain enzymes powerful enough to assist in the digestion of meats and are often very tasty in salads.

This article is based on Paul Chek’s book, “How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy!


  1. Lopez, Williams and Miehlke. Enzymes, the Foundation of Life. Charleston, SC: The Neville Press, Inc., 1994.
  2. Brostoff, Jonathan and Gamlin, Linda. Food Allergies and Food Intolerance. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2000.
  3. Campbell, Don. Mozart Effect. New York: Avon Books, 1997.
  4. Jensen, Bernard. Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care. New York: Avery Publishing Group, 1999.
  5. Webster, David. Achieve Maximum Health. Cardiff, CA: Hygeia Publishing, 1995
  6. Benteen, Tom. Personal communications, San Diego, CA, 2000.