How Food Intolerance Is Treated

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

An intolerance to a food can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

Whilst there is no cure or treatment for food intolerance, treating symptoms related to food intolerance is possible.

An elimination diet, avoidance of problem foods, over-the-counter medications, and natural and home remedies are all available to help treat of symptoms associated with food intolerance.

Learn more about these strategies as well as how to manage food intolerance symptoms at home.

Person laying down with stomach pain

Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

While there is no treatment or cure for food intolerance, modifications to diet can be beneficial.

There is no test for food intolerance, but undertaking an elimination diet is considered the gold standard in identifying foods that are causing uncomfortable symptoms.

The Elimination Diet

An elimination diet involves following a specific plan of eating that removes foods from the diet that are believed to be causing a problem. After a period of time, these foods are then reintroduced and any symptoms experienced are recorded.

The elimination diet is considered a safe approach to identifying food intolerances. Due to the complexities of this approach, however, it is recommended this is done with the assistance of a healthcare provider.

The elimination diet may take two to four weeks to be done properly and involves a number of stages:

In stage one, a healthcare provider will help you prepare for the elimination diet. They may ask you to keep a food diary to identify what foods you ate and any symptoms that occurred.

Following this, you will work together to identify possible foods that may be causing a problem. Ideally, an eating plan that is the least restrictive will be devised. This will help with adherence to the plan and lead to a greater chance of correctly identifying foods that are problematic.

During the elimination diet, it is important to strictly follow the eating plan devised and avoid all eliminated foods. This includes when eating at home, when eating out, or while at work. If an eliminated food is accidentally eaten, you will need to begin again.

Given the challenge associated with this, your healthcare provider may check in with you to ensure you are ready to follow the elimination diet.

If there is a stressful life event coming up, a period of travel, or other factors that may make it difficult to follow the diet, you may be advised to delay until you have the means to follow the diet strictly, with the support of those around you.

During stage two, the elimination diet begins. During this time, the foods that need to be eliminated must be avoided entirely. This may require checking labels on foods or beverages.

If avoiding dairy products, for example, foods that have casein, whey, or lactose listed on the label should also be avoided.

During this time, pay extra attention to the food you eat, especially when dining out.

If an error is made, you will need to start again from the beginning.

Some people will find that during the first few days of the elimination diet, their symptoms worsen. If symptoms continue to get worse beyond the first few days, or if they become severe, talk with your healthcare provider.

Before commencing stage three of the elimination diet, you will need to be symptom-free for at least five days.

If there has not been an improvement in symptoms in two weeks, extend the diet a further two weeks. If at the end of four weeks there has been no improvement, stop the diet and consult your healthcare provider.

Once you are symptom-free, you can begin the "challenge" phase of the diet. This involves reintroducing eliminated foods one at a time and recording any symptoms in a food diary. Foods should be reintroduced every three days.

If a food produces symptoms, make a note in the diary and stop eating it.

In the final stage of the elimination diet, a healthcare provider will help you devise an eating plan that excludes the foods that cause problems.

This may involve not eating several foods.

In some cases, it may be necessary to avoid an entire food group, like dairy products. In this instance, your healthcare provider will advise you on how to ensure you still get enough calcium in your diet.

It is important that an elimination diet is only followed for a brief period of time, as an extended period of restriction can cause issues with nutrition.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Medications will not cure or treat food intolerance, however, some over-the-counter medications may help the symptoms associated with food intolerance.

Antacids may help reduce symptoms of heartburn or indigestion. They are available without a prescription over the counter and come in liquid or tablet form. Liquid works more quickly. These medications work by neutralizing the stomach acid that is responsible for heartburn.

Diarrhea due to food intolerance can also be treated with over-the-counter medications. These include:

Pepto-Bismol can also help in the treatment of gas, as can simethicone, activated charcoal, and anti-gas tablets like Beano.

Medications like Lactaid can help in the digestion of lactose, as well as relieve symptoms like gas.

Summary

There is no treatment or cure for food intolerance, however, there are strategies that may help with symptom relief.

An elimination diet is considered the gold standard in identifying foods that are causing a problem. Undertaking this diet then avoiding foods identified as troublesome may help symptoms.

Over-the-counter remedies are available to treat symptoms like diarrhea or indigestion that may occur due to food intolerance.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with the symptoms of food intolerance can be frustrating, but you are not alone. If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, consider reaching out to a healthcare provider. They will be able to help you identify the foods that are causing trouble and advise what to do next.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Food Intolerance.

  2. Harvard Medical School. Food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity: what’s the difference, and why does it matter?

  3. University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. The elimination diet.

  4. MedlinePlus. Taking antacids.

  5. American Academy of Family Physicians. Anti-diarrheal medicines: OTC relief for diarrhea.

  6. Brigham and Women's Hospital. Gas: beat the bloat.