Symptoms can involve most parts of your body

Both food chemical and FODMAP intolerance can have overlapping symptoms: constipation, diarrhoea (or alternating between the both), stomach pain, bloating and excessive wind. 

A big difference is that food chemicals (salicylates etc) can trigger a huge variety of symptoms while FODMAP symptoms are pretty much confined to the gut.


In addition, food chemical symptoms can typically last days to weeks while FODMAPs are generally cleared from the body more quickly so symptoms generally do not linger as long longer than 3 days.

Food chemical symptoms can start within a few hours and typically last a few hours but can also go on for days. Or they may never get a chance to calm down due to the base load being constantly high.

While food chemical sensitivity typically impacts on a number of different body symptoms it can sometimes just affect one target organ for example the gut and the symptoms can change over a lifetime!



The most commonly reported are: 

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Swelling under the skin (angioedema)

  • Gut or IBS symptoms: gut pain, constipation, excess wind, constipation, diarrhoea, urgency 

  • Generally unwell, run down, fatigued

  • Sinus or congestion

  • Chronic mouth ulcers.


People often explain they feel like they have been 'hit by a bus' especially first thing in the morning.

A more comprehensive list shows how how most parts of the body can be affected. Symptoms triggered vary from person to person even within the same family.


It is common for a sensitive person to suffer a number of different symptoms, and the tricky thing is that this can change over a lifetime.

GUT symptoms 

  • Stomach pain, Bloating, Excess wind, Constipation, Diarrhoea, Alternating between constipation and diarrhoea, Excess windIrritable bowel (IBS), urgency

  • Sticky poos, sneaky poos (children)

  • Reflux, Heartburn, Indigestion

  • Vomiting

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Nausea

  • Bad breath

  • Chronic throat clearing




  • Congestion, sinus, runny or blocked nose

  • Nasal polyps, frequent nose bleeds

  • Hayfever



  • Eczema, rash, dermatitis, hives, super sensitive skin

  • Itching

  • Cradle cap



  • ADHD, hyperactivity

  • Oppositional defiance, difficult behaviour, anger, melt downs, temper tantrums, mean behaviour, deliberately annoys others

  • Depression, low mood, mood swings

  • Anxiety, panic attacks

  • OCD tendancies

  • Sleep issues such as insomnia and wakefulness

  • Headaches, migraines

  • Feeling 'foggy headed' or vague, difficulty focusing, 'fuzzy thinking'

  • Tic disorder

  • Dizziness/ vertigo

  • Unmotivated, disorganised



  • Frequent tonsillitis, colds, flu, ear infections

  • Recurrent mastitis, thrush

  • Multiple infections, swollen glands, low immunity

  • Generally feeling unwell

  • Glue ear


  • Limb pains, muscle tension, swelling

  • Arthritis

  • Period pain

  • Heart palpitations

  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitis)

  • Fatigue which can be quite extreme

  • Dark rings under eyes (shiners)

  • Bladder: incontinence or bedwetting (children)

  • Flushing

  • Speech: stuttering, talks too much, makes silly noises, speech delay, loud voice

  • Tourettes syndrome

Reactions are usually not life threatening (anaphylaxis) although they can make you feel very unwell.


You may have symptoms you did not know where caused by food until you remove the food as part of the elimination diet


Some sensitive people have seen a significant improvement in their energy levels, an improvement in their aching or inflamed joints or find sleep improved after being provided with a safe diet. Everybody is different.

If you are sensitive to food chemicals (salicylates, amines, glutamates and food additives including preservatives) then an individually tailored diet that reduces these chemicals to a level you can tolerate. 

food chemical intolerance clues


Do you have the following:

  • Ongoing symptoms that you think are related to food but cannot pinpoint the foods?

  • Range of symptoms that involve different systems in your body- respiratory system, moods, gut, nervous system?

  • Symptoms that flare up and sometimes settle over your lifetime?

  • Sensitivity to some medications?

  • Sensitivity to some smells eg perfume?

  • Other members in your family who have had reactions to food- eg your parents, grand parents, aunties, children (family history)?

  • Did your onset of symptoms (if you are a woman) relate to to menarche, pregnancy or the taking of oral contraceptives(hormonal factors may play a part)?

Reactions to food chemicals can occur at any age, although peak occurrence is in the 3rd of 4th decade of life.  Symptoms vary from one person to another and can change over a life time.

One third of sufferers link start of symptoms to

- a viral infection or another illness

- a reaction to a drug

- a sudden change in diet

- a combination of these

- overuse of nurofen (thought to trigger develop a salicylate/food chemical hypersensitivity in some people)


If you suspect you have a sensitivity to food chemicals or food additives (including preservatives) find out how you can be diagnosed.


Food Intolerance tends to run in families.

Do you have a family history?



1. Loblay, R, Swain, A.  The Role of Food Intolerance in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Retrieved from: Retrieved on: 2017-07-28.

2. Joy Anderson. Food-sensitive babies: dietary investigation for breastfed babies. Specialist Dietetics and Lactation services, 2016.

3. Allen, D.H., et al., Adverse reactions to foods. Med J Aust, 1984. 141(5 Suppl): p. S37-42.
4. Grattan, C.E., Aspirin sensitivity and urticaria. Clin Exp Dermatol, 2003. 28(2): p. 123-7.

5. Werfel, T., Skin manifestations in food allergy. Allergy, 2001. 56 Suppl 67: p. 98-101.

6. Maintz, L. and N. Novak, Histamine and histamine intolerance. Am J Clin Nutr, 2007. 85(5): p. 1185-96.

7. Vally, H. and N.L. Misso, Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives. Gastroenterol Hepatol Bed Bench, 2012. 5(1): p. 16-23.

8. Cardinale, F., et al., [Intolerance to food additives: an update]. Minerva Pediatr, 2008. 60(6): p. 1401-9.



Frances Walker

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