The Impact of Food Intolerances on Mental Health

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When imagining food allergies, most of us just think of a skin reaction when eating a specific food or in worst case scenarios anaphylactic shock and a visit to the emergency room or the use of an EpiPen

 

The connection between mental health and the foods we eat isn’t obvious. Yet research suggests that food intolerances and allergies may contribute to life-changing mental health problems. 

Food Intolerances: What Are They?

Food intolerances can happen with just about any kind of food. The human immune system views a certain food as a dangerous invader and sends out armies of antibodies to combat the intruder. IgG antibodies will interact with the food allergen and the resulting complexes can arrive anywhere in the body damaging tissue and creating inflammation.

 

Your body will attempt to free itself of these complexes, but if there are a lot, it will not be able to adequately fight them off. Reactions and illness can develop. You may experience bloating, joint inflammation and pain, itchy skin, headaches, acne, migraines, respiratory difficulties, and fatigue to name a few. 

How Are Food Intolerances Connected to Mental Health?

Research indicates a connection between disease and stress or inflammation. The possibility of developing inflammation because of food intolerances is high, and this will in turn affect both physical health and mental health. Our digestive tract produces 90% of the happiness hormone “serotonin”. If your stomach is unhappy, your brain will be as well and this means your mood will follow.

 

Research has shown that food allergens can provoke anger, depression, nervousness, motivation loss, and mental blankness. Other reactions include insomnia, irritability, panic attacks, and even daytime drowsiness. Among the most common foods involved in mental reactions were cane sugar, eggs, milk, and wheat. 

The Psychological Toll

Most of the attention for food allergies has been concentrated on finding and administering treatments for the allergies or intolerances, while very few have considered the mental ramifications of living with them. Intolerances and allergies can negatively affect the quality of life for sufferers. People affected can suffer from anxiety, depression, and often in the case of young people, being bullied. The lives of sufferers as well as their families are disrupted to some degree. 

 

Parents of children diagnosed with food intolerances when still babies are anxious living in constant fear that a child will not remember an intolerance or allergy and eat something away from home that places their very survival at risk. 

 

If mom and dad are nervous, it’s probable that this anxiety will be passed on to the child as well. Food intolerances can be life-changing for a family, and often the mental anxiety can be more severe than a food allergy itself. 

 

Children have been known to sleep with EpiPens due to anxiety about food allergies. This type of anxiety will affect all aspects of a child’s existence, starting with daily meals, playtime, school grades, and everything in between. Allergists have likened this to living in a minefield because everywhere you go there is food, and food equals worry.

 

Bullying

Most allergy or food intolerance sufferers, especially children will be bullied or teased because of this problem. What’s more, bullying can take the form of microaggressions, like a tone of voice, an eye roll, or a snide remark. More severe aggression takes place when someone willingly sneaks undesirable food or drink into a meal which can prove to be life-threatening.

 

Dating Anxiety

For teenagers and adults, dating can be negatively impacted if you can’t hold hands, hug, or kiss someone because of something they ate or handled, or you prefer not to go to a specific eatery because menus do not cater to sufferers. 

 

School Stress

When a teacher informs a class, they cannot enjoy a birthday cake because a classmate suffers from a food intolerance, it’s similar to placing a scarlet letter on the child. Children need to be educated to support classmates. Kids suffering may appear to be shy because they do not want to stand out from classmates or be identified as having this problem. 

 

Get Support

Getting support may not be easy because there are very few if any mental health resources dedicated to the repercussions of having a food allergy or intolerance. Support groups or clinicians trained to spot food intolerance anxiety are not as common as one might hope, but there is more research in this area as well as increasingly more informed medical practitioners.

 

Variety in your diet is part of what is so appealing about eating. Many people with food intolerances suddenly find their diets restricted. Luckily food companies are increasing their offerings for those with food intolerances. 

 

Companies like The Safe + Fair Food Company use very strict food allergy testing to provide allergen free foods and create inclusivity when enjoying snacks, treats, or desserts – or even birthday cake equivalents, so no child needs to miss out. 

 

Foods that cause reactions will not just be limited to certain products. Food intolerances can be caused by any type of food from dairy to meat, to vegetables and fruits to sweets. Elimination diets take time and patience when trying to identify a cause. Comprehensive testing can help identify whatever triggers your physical and mental discomfort more rapidly, affording you more control over your well-being.

Photo by Juan José Valencia Antía on Unsplash

Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.

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Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.

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