Uncovering Food Intolerances

Food intolerance is particularly tricky to notice because symptoms are delayed

Having a sluggish digestive system has been known to go hand-in-hand with spinal-cord injury (SCI), but bloating, gas and constipation may be symptoms from the food you’re eating instead. These symptoms are the most common sign of food intolerance, and according to SCI nutritionist Kylie James, gluten and/or lactose may be the cause.

“Seventy-five percent of people are missing lactate, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose, which is in milk. So a lot of times when I look at changing people’s diets I do take them off gluten and dairy for a couple of weeks to see if they notice a difference,” James says.

In her experience, James finds that many people notice a big difference during those two weeks. It’s hard to notice specific symptoms when you have lived with them your whole life, and food intolerance is particularly tricky to notice because the symptoms are delayed.

“Food intolerances can take up to three days to have a reaction in the body and if you’re consuming it everyday, you’re not going to notice or put that cause and effect … because it’s such a delayed reaction as opposed to someone who eats a peanut and they break out in a rash right away,” James says. “When you get these symptoms you think that’s just the norm, like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s just how my body is.’”

Food intolerance doesn’t just affect the digestive system; other symptoms include inflammation, pain, insomnia, mood swings and the inability to focus.

“Because your body has a hard time breaking down the gluten or the whey, it might not get broken down into its smallest component, so when it enters the bloodstream your body doesn’t recognize it as a food, it actually recognizes it as a foreign body and creates an immune response,” James says. “So food intolerance is a big thing and I think it’s grossly overlooked because I think a lot of people wouldn’t make that connection. “

If you experience any of the symptoms of food intolerance, talk to your doctor to look into a change in your diet. Cutting out gluten, dairy or both may be the change your body needs, and if not James and co-author for the Paralyzed Veterans of America-sponsored book, Eat Well, Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury, Joanne Smith, still recommend patients with SCI cut back on gluten-filled foods.

“Especially if you are doing a weight loss program, [we recommend] zero to one grain a day … so for instance, quinoa, buckwheat or wild rice, brown rice. These are all gluten-free grains, so they can just be better especially with spinal cord injury because digestion is so sluggish, it might go along way with helping bloating, gas, constipation even,” James says.


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