Intolerances to food should not be confused with allergies. Allergies are a specific immunochemical response to allergens, whilst intolerances are largely caused by a lack of enzymes, an inability to metabolize foods or a bodily reaction to the inability to metabolize foods.
A Rise In Numbers
In recent years, there has been a stark rise in the number of people who identified as having food intolerances. It was estimated recently that up to 20 percent of the world’s population may now suffer from food intolerances. In many countries, the industry for food intolerance testing kits that can be used at home has flourished, and people have altered their diets to cut out potentially intolerable ingredients on a huge scale.
This begs the question: why are people becoming more intolerant to foods worldwide? The answer is not as simple as you might think. Various factors have combined to make food intolerance more prevalent. Here are some of the most commonly cited reasons for the increase.
Interestingly, the development of widespread good hygiene has been blamed by some experts for the increase in food intolerances. Food intolerances are far less common in areas of the world with poor hygiene standards. This is thought to stem from the fact that people are exposed to a wider variety of bacterial and material inputs, leading the body to be well adjusted to unfamiliar chemicals.
This is particularly important when considering the prevalence of lactose intolerance in the eastern world. We now eat foods from all around the world instead of those foods traditional to our own areas of birth and socialization. In the eastern world, where there was no deep rooted culture of dairy consumption, the sudden mass introduction of dairy from other parts of the world may have led to an increase in intolerance because bodies had not developed to metabolize dairy.
According to recent research collated by the BBC, society wide vitamin D deficiency could explain the rise in allergies and intolerances. Vitamin D consumption helps develop our immune responses, which in turn can help regulate our metabolization of food. Most vitamin D is absorbed via sunlight. Because more and more of us work indoors, we are, as a whole species, absorbing less of the useful vitamin.
Changes In Agricultural Practice
Globally, agricultural practices have changed beyond recognition in the last century. We now produce and consume less variety within certain food groups, and rely upon genetically singular and thoroughly pasteurized sources of food. This lack of variety and contamination means that diets can become inundated with singular staple items. This can exasperate preexisting intolerances to the point that they are noticeable, leading to a general increase in perceived intolerance.
Experts such as Dr Sean Adarou believe that our mass consumption of antibiotics has led, in part, to an increase in food intolerances. Antibiotics kill off unwanted bacteria, but they also kill off useful bacteria – such as the flora within our guts. This flora aids us in breaking down and metabolizing foods. It is thought that through the erosion of this ecosystem we make ourselves less able to tolerate certain proteins and sugars.