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Food Sensitivities - Being Tolerant with Intolerances

by Rachael Hayllor(more info)

listed in allergies, originally published in issue 72 - January 2002


Most of us have read enough about food allergies to know that they can run very high health risks and even be life threatening. But the term 'allergy' is often overused. True allergies are quite rare and affect only a small percentage of the population, mostly during childhood, a good example of this being a nut allergy. Sensitivities or intolerances to food, however, can affect many people and occur at any time of life. Unlike allergies, food intolerances rarely create symptoms immediately and can often develop over a longer period of time, therefore making it more difficult to pinpoint the source. Some people may go for months or even years ignoring persistent health problems that they feel are not worth bothering the doctor with. The most common symptoms of food intolerance are eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, lethargy, fluid retention, asthma, irritability and poor concentration.

food products

Personal Case History

Over two years ago I visited my doctor complaining of feeling extremely tired; my muscles ached and I suffered with bloatedness and recurrent headaches. After having various routine tests, which were all normal, I was advised to rest up and take things easy for a while, which, as a self-employed single mother, was a virtual impossibility. A few months passed and the tiredness seemed worse. I went back to my doctor and he referred me to a homeopath who specialized in diagnosing food intolerances.


At the first initial consultation we talked about my symptoms and he used a form of modified electro-acupuncture called a Vega testing machine to detect food intolerances. The test was non-invasive and pain-free, and took about half an hour to test the most common 'culprits' of food intolerance. At the end of the session the homeopath felt confident that I actually had Candida in my gut, and therefore recommended that I follow a diet that excluded wheat, dairy, sugar and yeast. He also prescribed some probiotics to improve the strength of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and took a hair analysis to check for any mineral deficiencies. I felt reassured at this stage that I was finally getting an answer to my problems.

The exclusion diet was difficult to follow. As a vegetarian, it gave me fewer options and, as so many stocks and sauces contain yeast, food tended to taste bland however interesting and varied I tried to make it. I invested in a recipe book to help bring variety into my cooking which helped, but I also found the preparation of meals very time consuming, which became an added chore. After one month of following the programme I had noticed little change to the way I was feeling. I went back to the homeopath who then suspected 'leaky gut syndrome', and suggested that I did a 'gut permeability test'. This involved providing a urine sample, collected over a six-hour period after taking a special liquid. The test came back positive and so for the next month I continued with the exclusion diet and was also prescribed kaolin powder which when made up with water had to be taken three times a day. The hair mineral analysis had also revealed borderline levels of chromium, so I was given a supplement to take as well.

Another month passed and still no real improvement other than feeling slightly less bloated. The tiredness was now affecting my life to the point of having to give up things that I enjoyed, such as going to my local health club. Looking after my energetic daughter also became very difficult; the only way I found that I could cope was to get some sleep during the day when she was at school, in order to have enough energy in the afternoon. I remember very clearly on one occasion sitting in a park watching other parents running around with their children and I found it so hard not to feel resentful. I felt so low and isolated at this time; my social life had practically disappeared and my family and friends were worried that I was spiralling into some sort of depression, and urged me to go back to see my doctor.

On this occasion my doctor could see that my health had not improved and he asked me if I had heard of an illness called ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) as he felt that my symptoms related to those recognized by sufferers with the same illness. He explained that although there is no specific test for ME research now points to the fact that it may well be caused by the result of a persistent viral infection resulting in an overactive immune system.

After reading about the subject, I looked at various ways that I could help cope with the symptoms. I'd found some evidence, which stated that certain supplements could help to support the immune system, so I visited my local health store to find out where I could locate them. I spoke to a specialist there who told me about a therapist she knew that helped ME sufferers using kinesiology. Feeling that I had nothing to lose I made an appointment to see her.


At our first meeting, I was asked about my health history and, after writing down other relevant information, she explained that she used a technique called kinesiology to diagnose the underlying problem. This involves gentle muscle testing to detect minor functional imbalances and energy blocks in the body, which if left uncorrected accumulate and create problems. She started off by checking for food intolerances using this technique and explained that you can be intolerant to certain foods by their simply being overused in the diet. The body becomes intoxicated which then creates adverse reactions. When the source of the problem is found and eliminated from the diet, the body then needs to be flushed out with the help of specific herbs. The test is based on the principle that beneficial influences make you strong, and harmful influences sap your energy.

After testing many different food groups she told me that I had an intolerance to the onion family (onions, spring onions and shallots). At first I found the whole idea totally unbelievable, but it then occurred to me that being a vegetarian I cooked with onions all the time and had been using them freely on the exclusion diet I had been following. I left the consultation armed with various herbal tinctures to help 'flush out' the body. After just one week I felt fantastic, my energy levels had returned, and my muscles had stopped aching. Finally I felt well again.

For some people, when the body has been flushed out it is possible to introduce the food slowly back into the diet. Unfortunately, for me this hasn't been the case. On the odd occasion that I have come into contact with onions, the old symptoms come back and last for a few days. Living with an intolerance such as mine requires careful checking of food labels, and as you can imagine onions are added to many pre-packed vegetarian foods, as well as stocks, sauces, flavourings and dressings, to name but a few. I've learned over time to keep meals simple when eating out. Sticking to salads tends to be a safe option although I have to say that many restaurants I have eaten at have been very understanding and dealt with the situation well.


I have learnt in my experience that although alternative therapies are in no way used to diagnose disease, they can be extremely useful in cases such as mine. I would advise anyone who, like me, has become disillusioned by the GP route to explore the wide range of alternative therapies now available, and to remember it's often a case of trial and error, what works for one person may not necessarily work for the next. Doctors are now starting to recognize that food intolerances may well be responsible for various health problems and see a place for sensitivity testing. Unfortunately, however, in my experience doctors still tend to be disbelieving of alternative therapies and their role in the health care system, but now, as more and more people are choosing alternative health therapies, this appears to be changing all the time.


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About Rachael Hayllor

Rachael Hayllor is a freelance Consultant Stylist working in Bath. She is a single mother to her daughter Rhianna, and is currently embarking on a new career as a freelance writer. Rachael can be contacted at

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