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For most people, eating food is pleasurable and satisfying. However, a few people do not have the same experience because eating can make them feel all sorts of symptoms, which cannot be explained clearly. Often times it is difficult to identify exactly what causes these people to feel sick, and it is just as problematic for doctors to diagnose their condition if the symptoms and the medical examination do not give them a clear picture of what they are dealing with. Furthermore, in some individuals, symptoms may not appear to be related to a gastrointestinal or digestive problem alone, but may have features in common with psychological or other medical problems.

When patients say that eating makes them sick, they may mean that they experience symptoms such as:

  • feeling bloated

  • frequent nausea and vomiting

  • frequent bowel movements

  • stomach aches

  • skin rashes

  • numbness in the arms and legs

  • headache

  • dizziness

  • fogginess

  • joint pains

  • anxiety or depression

  • fatigue

  • acne or eczema

Possible Causes

Food intolerance. Some people think they are allergic to certain foods when they have a negative reaction after eating these foods. The truth is that very few people (about 5%) have a proven allergy to some foods, and most of the others have, instead, a case of food intolerance. People who cannot tolerate eating certain foods such as dairy products or baked goods can sometimes eat small amounts of the food without feeling ill. Or, they can take steps to prevent the reaction, such as taking enzymes to aid digestion. Common causes of food intolerance include:

  • lack of digestive enzymes (lactose intolerance)

  • irritable bowel syndrome

  • sensitivity to certain food additives like sulfite

  • non-celiac gluten sensitivity

  • celiac disease (gluten sensitivity)

Food Allergy. Real food allergy represents an immune system response to specific foods such as peanuts, eggs, chicken, milk, sea food, and other foods. In people with food allergy, even small amounts of the food, or sometimes even smelling or touching the food can trigger an allergic response that can be severe. The reaction is brought about by the production of certain proteins or immunoglobulins called IgE, which causes blood cells called mast cells to release histamine. Histamine is a chemical that causes the negative reactions, such as skin rashes, itching, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Individuals with true food allergy are also at risk of anaphylactic reactions, which are life threatening. These reactions include swelling of the face, mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, and very low blood pressure.

Celiac Disease. Some people develop an immune response to certain grains, which include wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten containing foods such as bread, cereals, pasta, and cake can trigger a variety of symptoms, which can be mild to severe. This condition may be mistaken for food intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome. The diagnosis of this disease depends on the presence of specific tissue antibodies, which are identified by taking a biopsy of the intestine.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. People who are sensitive to gluten but do not exhibit an immune response to it are said to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Most of the symptoms of this condition are not related to gastrointestinal tract function, and these include joint pains, foggy brain and numbness.

To find out why eating makes you sick, consult a doctor so that proper tests and treatment can be done.

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