Headaches, recurrent urinary tract infections, recurrent candidiasis, frequent fatigue and discouragement can be indicators of food intolerance. In addition to the classic symptoms, such as abdominal discomfort, poor digestion, gas, bloating and other intestinal problems, neglecting treatment can promote the onset of more serious illnesses.
According to Mariana Percussor, functional clinical nutritionist, specialist in intestinal modulation, there are more than 60 symptoms that can be caused by food intolerances, in addition to the problems that arise from them. “The classics that I see a lot in the office are repeated urinary tract infections, repeated candidiasis, a lot of swelling, difficulty losing weight and intestines that are either stuck or very loose,” he explains.
Among Brazilians, the most common intolerances are lactose, fructose and sucrose. Food intolerance is characterized by the inability to fully digest carbohydrates. The nutritionist explains that the problem can come from both genetic reasons and lifestyle habits. “There is the hereditary problem, mainly from the mother. Genetics is one cause, the issue of being born with an “X” of digestive enzymes and they end, and eating habits. The question of the intestine, the injury to the intestine with the food we have, ultra-processed products, the amount of pesticides and chemicals, the very transgenicity of foods and the stress of everyday life” , points out Mariana.
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Although they also affect children, food intolerances are more common in adults. Over the years, the quantity of digestive enzymes which act in the digestion of lactose and fructose, such as lactase for example, tends to decrease in adults. Combined with unhealthy lifestyle habits, this natural tendency can lead to poorer gut health.
Scientific studies demonstrate that the intestine can be considered as our second brain, having around half a million neurons and direct communication with the central nervous system organ, via the vagus nerve. Additionally, 70% of our immune system cells live in the gut region, where about 80% to 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which influences mood, satiety and well-being, is also found. Gut health is directly linked to our mood and stress levels, also influencing immunity.
The recurrent consumption of lactose and fructose by intolerant people causes attacks on the body which, over time, compromise the ability to absorb nutrients and cause subclinical intestinal inflammation. “Due to inadequate nutrition, Leaky gut, which is the relaxation of the intestinal villi, and when there is this relaxation, the macromolecules pass into the bloodstream,” explains Mariana.
The increased permeability of the intestine accentuates digestive disorders, reduces immunity and promotes the appearance of opportunistic diseases. To improve permeability, it is necessary to combat the cause of the problem by changing dietary habits. In the case of intolerant people, remove harmful foods from the diet, for as long as the health professional deems appropriate, for each individual case, until the inflammation subsides.
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The nutritionist, specialist in hemotherapy and hematology, Lays Serafim, specifies that the treatment is based on the restoration of the health of the intestine. “What’s really going to treat and make that person more tolerant is a specific diet and specific supplements from a professional who really understands that gut area, to try to restore gut health, the gut barrier, the good and bad bacteria, trying to generate a balance there,” he says.
According to Lays, improvement can be noticed within one to two weeks of treatment, with restriction and supplementation of vitamins and minerals that help with intestinal balance. The big difficulty is related to the exclusion of foods containing lactose and fructose.
Food choices are directly linked to emotional and social issues. “I see a lot of people who have a little difficulty accepting it, because it really changes our routine a lot. The restriction is very complex from the point of view of social interaction, and here in Goiânia we have little options, almost none. [sem lactose]. Really, in social life, you need a whole adaptation, an acceptance that will no longer be the same as before”, he underlines.
Although having as an alternative the use of digestive enzymes, such as lactase, which can be consumed in the form of pills and sachets before eating foods containing lactose to help digestion, the result is not always satisfying. In many cases, such as that of physiotherapist Nathália Monteiro, 30, the enzyme no longer has the desired effect. “We don’t always find lactose-free foods. Enzymes are expensive and sometimes don’t work as well. As I love to eat, it’s difficult to deprive yourself, and my weakness is sweets, so it’s a bit painful, ”he reports.
In the case of fructose, a carbohydrate found in fruit, the challenge can be even greater. For civil servant Louise Ribeiro, 41, the restriction of foods containing fructose caused changes not only in her routine, but also in her mood. “The hardest part is choosing the food. Fructose is in almost everything we eat. The restriction has also been very difficult, we overcome the will, but the lack of sugar makes me moody, nervous, depressed and anxious”, he underlines.
Although difficult, especially in the adjustment phase of treatment, restriction is necessary to regain gut health and prevent further complications. The biologist, Camila Provásio, 28, explains that due to lactose intolerance not treated properly, many intestinal problems have worsened. “Some time ago, I had a colonoscopy and discovered an ulcer in the intestine. In addition to other problems seen with endoscopy such as reflux and gastritis. Although these are diseases that do not depend on intolerance, they get worse when I consume products containing lactose,” he says.
According to Mariana, the secret of the treatment is to have a follow-up with a gastroenterologist and a nutritionist specialized in the intestine and, according to the improvement of the state, to try to reintroduce the food into the diet, small little by little. “We do this process of the 3 Rs, remove, reassess and replace, always observing, seeing what the patient is putting up with. From the first month, it depends on the evolution of the patient. The minimum is 3 months, this is the time necessary for all your intestinal cells to be replaced”, explains the nutritionist.
The expert points out that in case of intolerances, there is no total cure, only remission and stability of digestive health. “The patient will probably still eat a lot of things. But if you go back to the same habits, you will have the same symptoms again. There will always be a trend,” he says.
It is also important to maintain a periodicity in the medical follow-up and to have regular consultations and examinations. “Those who are intolerant do not absorb vitamins and minerals in the same way as those who are not. For the patient to have a better quality of life, the intestine must be able to absorb nutrients food,” says the nutritionist.
For those who live with intolerance, it is necessary to learn to identify the signs that the body gives and to understand that restrictions are necessary to maintain health and well-being. “What I tell my patients is: make sure you go out with your friends, make sure you go to lunch on the weekends, it’s so you don’t miss a moment, it’s to add to it, it’s for you to get better, to feel more ready for your friends and family. It’s understanding that you can’t, for a moment, and learning to make choice,” assures Mariana.
Journalism trainee under the agreement between UFG and Diário de Goiás.