Food intolerances can cause hyperactivity, mood swings and depression

Are the foods you’re eating making you sick? For many of us, one or more of the foods we eat is badly affecting our health, and we might not even know it. Depression, mood swings and aggression are just a few of the many possible signs of a reaction to foods.

There are two types of food reactions. The most common is food intolerance. This is a reaction to foods that doesn’t involve the immune system. The other less common type of reaction is a food allergy, which does involve the immune system.

There are many ways we can find out if we have a food intolerance or allergy, and there are things we can do to treat them.

What’s the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?
What causes food allergy and intolerance?
Which foods are most likely to cause food intolerance and allergies?
How many people have food allergy and intolerance?
How can we test for food allergy and intolerance?
How can we treat food allergy and intolerance?

What’s the difference between food intolerance and food allergy?

Food intolerance and food allergy have different patterns of symptoms, methods of detection and treatments.

WebMD says a food allergy occurs when the body mistakes part of a food – often a protein – as a harmful invader, so creates a defense system (antibodies) to combat it.

Symptoms of food allergy are often obvious and can include swelling, coughing, asthma, hay fever, nausea, sneezing, vomiting, gut pain, gut spasms, migraines, headaches, watering eyes, eczema, rashes or hives.

Food allergy is less common than most people believe. Many food reactions are food intolerances, not food allergies.

A food intolerance can be any food reaction where the immune system is not involved. Such a reaction can occur when the body is unable to properly digest certain foods. Food passes through the body before digestion is complete, so it is only partially processed. An example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance.

Food intolerance can cause many symptoms including hyperactivity, lack of energy, mood swings, depression, aggression, migraines, headaches, fatigue, itchy skin, recurrent mouth ulcers, joint pain, vomiting, nausea, stomach aches, stomach ulcers, duodenal ulcers, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, wind, bloating and edema (water retention).

Signs of a food reaction can occur very soon after a food is eaten or can take over 48 hours to appear. You’re more likely to have an immediate reaction from a food allergy rather than an intolerance, according to Jane Houlton, author of The Allergy Survival Guide.

What causes food allergy and intolerance?

Various factors can cause food reactions; below is a list of some of these.

  • Eating too much of a particular food. Eating less of the food might cure the problem.
  • Reactions to food additives. Many studies have found that some people with hyperactivity and ADHD, for example, show improvement in symptoms when certain food additives are removed from the diet, for example artificial colors and some preservatives.
  • Food allergy and intolerance often run in families.
  • People fed wrongly during infancy, for example they were introduced to cow’s milk too early.
  • High pollen season or high mould season can bring on temporary food reactions in some people.
  • Viruses such as cold, flu or gastric virus can cause temporary food intolerances.
  • Taking medication such as antibiotics.
  • Overgrowth of candida, which is a yeast infection.
  • Houlton says we can sometimes react to one or more foods we can normally tolerate when we are under a lot of emotional stress or worrying a lot.
  • Woman are more likely to have temporary food intolerances at ovulation in mid-cycle or when they’re pre-menstrual.
  • Hormonal changes in menopause, during or after pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding can also bring on temporary food intolerances.

Which foods are most likely to cause food intolerance and allergies?

Any food can cause a food reaction. The foods that cause problems tend to be the ones we crave and most often eat. Be aware that some people react to one or more foods that rarely cause food reactions, but not to foods that commonly cause reactions, and vice versa.

The most common foods that cause reactions include:

  • cow’s milk and its products, such as cheese and whey
  • cereals and grains (especially wheat)
  • eggs
  • fish
  • soy beans
  • yeast
  • sugar
  • citrus fruits
  • tomatoes
  • pork (including ham and bacon)
  • chocolate and cocoa
  • nuts

Woodlands Healing Research Center says any vitamin, herb or other supplement, no matter how “good”, can also cause a reaction. They all should be treated like a potential triggering agent in a food sensitive person. For example, a person could be sensitive to a few different supplements (vitamin C, magnesium etc). Over time, testing different forms of the supplements can find types that don’t cause a reaction.

What is food for one, is to others bitter poison”

– Lucretius

How many people have food allergy and intolerance?

According to The Food Intolerant Consumer:

  • Up to 75 percent of people in the world are lactose intolerant, depending on race. Caucasians have low rates, while Asians and African Americans have much higher rates.
  • About 1 in 3 people are yeast sensitive.
  • About 1 in 3 people are sensitive to sugars.
  • About 1 percent of people have a food allergy.

Food allergy expert Dr Rodney Ford says about 1 in 10 people are sensitive to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, oats, rye, barley and triticale.

How can we test for food allergy and intolerance?

There are many ways to find out which foods are causing allergies or intolerances. Some methods are better than others. They include:

  • skin prick tests. Beware, these can be inconclusive and misleading.
  • blood tests.
  • pulse tests (involve testing the pulse rate).
  • elimination (exclusion) diets. Certain foods are completely removed from the diet for one or two weeks before being reintroduced. The person is then observed to see if any symptoms of a food reaction occur. This diet is best done under the supervision of a relevant health professional because, for example, some people can become ill under this type of diet.
  • an additive-free diet.
  • a low-amine diet.
  • a low-salicylate diet.
  • a rotation diet.
  • provoking a response with an extract of a food and then neutralizing the response by using a diluted form of the food. The Autism Research Institute says this can be done by having a qualified physician inject the substance into the person with a needle or place food extracts under the person’s tongue. When a reaction occurs, a dilution of the extract is given to stop or neutralize the reaction. For some people, a dilution of the food will desensitize the person to the food causing the allergy.

How can we treat food allergy and intolerance?

Food allergy and intolerance respond to different types of treatment and different ways of managing the diet, says Houlton. There are various ways to treat these, including:

  • removing the food that’s causing problems from the diet.
  • eating the food that’s causing reactions occasionally and only in small amounts. This might work if food intolerance is detected, but if you’re severely allergic to a food, the best, and possibly only, treatment is to never eat it.
  • taking particular nutrients and other supplements to boost health, improve the immune system and lessen the allergy response, such as probiotics and vitamin C.
  • improving the quality of the diet to help prevent candida overgrowth.
  • keeping emotional stress levels and worry low.
  • avoiding behaviors that weaken the immune system. For example, do not smoke, and drink little or no alcohol.
  • giving a very small dose of the substance causing the allergy may desensitize a person to it, so the body doesn’t think of it as harmful. This often involves getting an ‘allergy shot’.
  • taking the enzyme lactase, to make you able to drink milk without having bad side effects, if you’re lactose intolerant.
  • taking anti-histamines. These can have side effects.
  • taking steroids. These are used mostly for serious allergies. Steroids can have severe side effects, especially when taken for long periods of time.

I’ll share with you a passage from the book Allergy Overload – Are Foods and Chemicals Killing You? by Stephen Griffiths.

In England, recently, Professor Maurice Lessoff completed an inquiry into food allergies for the Royal College of Physicians. He said that such illnesses are common and should be taken seriously. He found that, often, people with genuine food allergies are wrongly told they have a psychological problem. How many people have been forced to lead miserable lives because narrow-minded doctors are unwilling to accept food allergy as a major cause of illness! This situation is extraordinary when you consider that 2400 years ago Hippocrates, the great Greek physician, said that the most important thing, of which a doctor should take note, is his patient’s food and drink and the effects of these things on his health.

written by Nyomi Graef

Buist, R, 1986, Food Chemical Sensitivity, Sydney, Australia: Harper and Row

Edelson, S M, 2007, Allergies and Food Sensitivities, Autism Research Institute,

Food Allergies and Food Intolerance, 2008, WebMD,

Food Allergy: Even the Best of Foods Can Make You Sick!, 2007, Woodlands Healing Research Center,

Ford, R, 2006, Gluten Causes Brain Disease!,,

Gamlin, L, 2005, The Allergy Bible, Dingley, Australia: Hinkler Books

Griffiths, S, 1996, Allergy Overload, Sydney, Australia: HarperCollins

Houlton, J, 1995, The Allergy Survival Guide, London, UK: Leopard Books

How Common is Food Intolerance?, 2008, foodintol,

Mackarness, R, 1980, Chemical Victims, Manchester, UK: Pan Books

Samways, L, 1989, The Chemical Connection, Victoria, Australia: Greenhouse Publications

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One Response to “Food intolerances can cause hyperactivity, mood swings and depression”

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