Abdominal swelling, stress, digestive difficulties. There are many causes that can lead to developing a problematic connection with food. According to statistics, however, one Italian in four is convinced that he is intolerant to something and that often, without any reason, he undertakes a restrictive diet. This means that the initial problem is still not solved, and may even get worse, with the worsening of other problems due to an unbalanced diet. We talked about it with Dr. Paoletta Preatoni, gastroenterologist at Humanitas.
Incorrect diet leads to nutritional deficiencies
Depriving yourself of various categories of food because of a suspected intolerance that has never been diagnosed leads to deficiencies in vitamins or other micronutrients that, in the most severe forms, can result in anemia, bone fragility, muscle atrophy and other physical problems.
However, disinformation leads people to target certain foods, which are therefore totally excluded from the diet.
“Diagnosing intolerances is the exclusive task of the doctor – said the specialist of Humanitas, explaining that over the past few years there has been a dangerous DIY in this area -: in fact, the symptoms can change from person to person and therefore they need to be clarified by precise diagnostic tests”.
The only intolerances that medicine recognizes today are lactose and gluten intolerances (hence the diagnosis of celiac disease). Everything else is related to non-pathological conditions in which the boundary is thin and therefore requires an ad hoc evaluation.
Allergies or intolerances?
“First of all It’s important to distinguish celiac disease intolerances and allergies – explains the doctor .- In fact ,in the latter, the immune system exchanges a substance completely harmless to a dangerous aggressor, stimulating the production of specific antibodies, the immunoglobulins especially class IgA for celiac disease and IgE for allergies, in order to neutralize it.
On the other hand, the mechanism in intolerances is different: the immune defences are not involved but the body manifests a hypersensitivity against a food, usually due to the lack or scarcity of some digestive enzymes. These range from skin reactions such as itching or swelling to gastrointestinal disorders such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation and gaseous colic. But there are also cramps, chronic fatigue, headaches and recurrent bladder infections.
If in the case of allergy the reaction is violent and sudden, in intolerances the symptoms may develop even a few days later.
56% of Italians suffer from it. In lactose intolerance the problem is the difficulty of the body in metabolizing milk sugars. The remedy is to drink milk without lactose, while yoghurt and mature cheeses are usually well tolerated. The diagnosis is made through the “breath test”, which is a non-invasive test that analyzes a sample of air sucked in by the subject.
Gluten is a protein substance found inside the wheat. In some people, genetically predisposed, gluten triggers an adverse reaction, causing a chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. For diagnosis, the only reliable tests are serological tests that analyze the blood to detect the presence of antibodies specific to the disease.
“It is important to diagnose this disease not only because it causes quite serious disorders – explained the doctor – but also because the consumption of gluten by people who do not tolerate it over time leads to a mis-absorption of vitamins and nutrients essential to the body.
On the other hand, it is essential that, before eliminating the gluten, there is a precise diagnosis by a specialist.
Choosing gluten-free products, even from healthy people, is in fact wrong and against the principles of healthy eating. In fact, these products are often deprived of many nutrients and are richer in fat.