Call us: 
+65 6264-2836
#21-11/12 Royal Square Medical Centre
Mon - Fri : 9am - 5pm, Sat : 9am - 1pm
Follow us on:

Does food intolerance get worse as we age?

Woman with abdominal pain

Remember when you could enjoy a particular food in the past, but not so anymore without any stomach issues? That is the journey of ageing — apart from getting some wrinkles here and there, our digestion goes through changes as well. This change is known as food intolerance, an occurrence that can affect anyone at any age but increases as we get older. This is due to slower emptying of the stomach and microbial imbalance in the small intestine that come naturally with age.

Over 20% of the population in developed countries experience some form of food intolerance. A common one I see in Asian countries like Singapore is lactose intolerance, which comes with symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal cramps upon consuming dairy. In fact, about 65% of people do not digest lactose as well as soon as after infancy!

Allergy or intolerance?

Many people confuse food tolerances with food allergies because they share similar symptoms. However, both conditions are quite different, especially the impact of their onset.

A food allergy involves the immune system and occurs when the body mistakes a foreign ingredient —usually a protein— as harmful and attacks it by producing high levels of an antibody known as immunoglobulin E. What this means is that the patient goes through a slew of reactions, including:

  • Rashes or hives
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling
  • Irregular heartbeat or difficulty breathing
  • Anaphylactic reaction – the most severe life threating reaction

A food intolerance, on the other hand, stems from a digestive issue. As mentioned, food intolerances happen more often as you age as your digestion slows down, which allows more time for bacteria to ferment in your gastrointestinal tract. Apart from dairy, some common sensitivities I see are dried fruits, canned goods, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) found often in Chinese food and chips.

Wooden bowl with assorted nuts

When triggered, food intolerance presents itself with symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

As you can see, the symptoms more or less mirror that of food allergies, except food intolerances are rarely ever life threatening.

Below, I have a simple summary of the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.

What it affects & how it onsetsAffects the immune system, may affect multiple organs,
may be life threatening, symptoms often appear quickly
Affects only the digestive system,
less serious and symptoms take a while to onset
Who does it affect?Usually diagnosed in childhood and carries through adulthood,
although it may develop at any age depending on when the
person is first exposed to the food
Usually developed in adulthood
What is it triggered by?Usually triggered by specific food like fish, nuts, soy, milk,
wheat, and eggs. Can be triggered even by a small amount
Usually triggered by multiple types of food
groups like fructose, galactans, gluten, lactose,
artificial sweeteners, and fermented food

Autoimmunity and food intolerance

We know that gluten can trigger celiac disease in genetically predisposed individuals, but are those with other autoimmune diseases more prone to food intolerance? Based on what we’ve studied so far, those with autoimmune diseases tend to have more food intolerances. Among the most reactive foods are wheat, cow milk, gliadin, casein, egg whites and rice. The good thing is that so far, we have not got many reactions from food like vegetables and fish (excluding shellfish) and meat.

How to manage food intolerance

A food tolerance can be tricky to pinpoint because you can still eat a small portion of a problem food without causing any trouble. What I make my patients do is to keep a detailed food diary and write down what they eat for every meal, including snacks and portion size. I get them to document the symptoms for every food.

Try to maintain this diary for 2 to 4 weeks and review it. You should be able to find a connection between symptoms, certain foods, and portion sizes. Once you pinpoint some food that coincides with your symptoms, try eliminating one ingredient at a time or adjust your serving sizes. This way, you can still enjoy your favorite food without experiencing symptoms.

For patients, whose problem food is a source of important nutrients, I make sure they find an adequate replacement. Take lactose intolerance for example. You can still get in plenty of calcium through lactose-free milk, almond milk, or other plant based milk fortified with calcium.

Overall, if managed well, food intolerance is nothing much to fret about and there are many ways to work around it without compromising on your quality of life!


  1. Coucke F. (2018). Food intolerance in patients with manifest autoimmunity. Observational study. Autoimmunity reviews17(11), 1078–1080.
  2. Di Costanzo, M., & Berni Canani, R. (2018). Lactose Intolerance: Common Misunderstandings. Annals of nutrition & metabolism73 Suppl 4, 30–37.

Related Articles

Is colonic irrigation or colon cleansing worth doing?

Our brains and gastrointestinal systems are closely connected. This means that a troubled intestine can send troubling signals to the brain, and vice versa. With gut health being of utmost importance to our overall health and wholeness, it’s little wonder that colonic irrigation has now become a popular complementary therapy. In this article, let’s explore […]
Woman with abdominal pain

Does food intolerance get worse as we age?

Remember when you could enjoy a particular food in the past, but not so anymore without any stomach issues? That is the journey of ageing — apart from getting some wrinkles here and there, our digestion goes through changes as well. This change is known as food intolerance, an occurrence that can affect anyone at […]
Allergy food

Celiac disease: What are my chances of getting another autoimmune disorder?

At my clinic, we treat celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that’s triggered by eating gluten. Gluten is a protein found commonly in wheat, rye and barley. If patients with celiac disease consume food with gluten, their immune system flares up by damaging the small intestine. By damage, it means experiencing digestive symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting, […]

Food Intolerances

Do food intolerances developed over time? Yes, the food intolerance can be developed over time and this is because we became unable to digest some foods. The inability to digest foods is related to a reduced enzymatic activity or a sensitivity to a different food or chemicals. For celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition, […]
Different types of food

What is the PUFApro Test?

What is PUFApro? PUFApro is a comprehensive test which allows you to obtain a full overview of your fatty acid profile in order to make decisions regarding your diet and lifestyle to improve overall health and wellbeing. When to use PUFApro? Why it is important? Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are fundamental nutrients for humans because they cannot […]
Picture of many different type of healthy fruits and vegetables

Crohn's Disease Exclusion Diet (CDED)

The diet has a crucial role in modulating intestinal inflammation and the risk of inflammatory bowel disease, so the avoidance and/or reduction of proinflammatory foods is considered a good practice for disease prevention. The CDED is a diet which exclude or limit exposure to foods that may negatively affect the microbiome or alter intestinal barrier […]
Mediterranean diet concept flat lay

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet The Mediterranean diet has definitely taken hold everywhere around the world, becoming a real trend, but what does it really mean? This diet represents the expression of the lifestyle developed by the population of the Mediterranean area over the years. In fact, the word Diet that in Greek is “Diaita” means way […]
Food for planetary health diet

The Flexitarian Diet

Flexitarianism Flexitarianism has definitely taken hold everywhere around the world, becoming a real trend. It’s a new concept of diet, that gives more flexibility combining vegetable proteins with animal proteins few times a week. The main pillar of the vegetarian diet consists in consuming mainly legumes, vegetables, cereals, seeds and good fats. The legumes are […]
Dried fruits on tablecloth

Soaking and Boiling Guideline

GUIDELINE The soaking of legumes, dried fruits, seeds, quinoa and amahrant is necessary to reduce the fermentation process in the intestine and remove all the substances (phytic acid and saponins) that inhibit the absorption of certain minerals. HOW TO DO THE SOAKING Legumes à overnight soaking (12-24-48 h) using warm water (1 cup per 5 g […]
Healthy snacks in a plate

Snack and Lunch Ideas

Snacks ideas Oat biscuits à our picture (made with oat, banana, grated coconut, chestnuts flour, nuts/seeds) You can also add chocolate or cranberries. Oat tahini biscuits à I do not have pictures (made with oat, tahini, almon flour and maple syrup, pinch of salt and chocolate) Fruit with chocolate and nuts à I do not have pictures (fruit in pieces […]
1 2 3
Copyright © 2022 - Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder
Clinic Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved