Sian Baker

Medically reviewed by Sian Baker, Dip ION mBANT mCNHC
on December 1, 2023. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Check My Body Health blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Garlic intolerance stems from your digestive system, often without involving your immune system. If you’re intolerant to garlic, you might experience digestive problems like bloating, diarrhea, or nausea. This type of reaction is commonly linked to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or lactose intolerance.

Garlic is a staple in many cuisines worldwide. However, for some individuals, consuming garlic can lead to adverse reactions, signalling a potential intolerance or allergy. 

Understanding The Symptoms of Garlic Intolerance and Garlic Allergy

 

Garlic intolerance symptoms

Digestive Distress

Individuals with garlic intolerance may experience digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea after they eat garlic containing foods. These symptoms can be indicative of an inability to digest certain compounds found in garlic.

Upset Stomach

Both intolerance and allergy can cause gastrointestinal upset, but the severity and specific symptoms may vary. Gastrointestinal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.

 

Garlic allergy symptoms

Skin Reactions

Allergic reactions to garlic may manifest on the skin, leading to symptoms like itching, redness, hives, or eczema. In severe cases, individuals may experience swelling, particularly around the face and lips.

Respiratory Issues

Garlic allergy can trigger respiratory symptoms, including sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, or even shortness of breath. These symptoms may be a result of inhaling garlic particles or compounds released during digestion.

Cardiovascular Symptoms

In rare cases, garlic allergies can lead to cardiovascular symptoms such as a drop in blood pressure or even anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

 

How to treat garlic intolerance

  • Identifying and Eliminating Trigger Foods: The first step in managing garlic intolerance is to confirm you are intolerant to garlic. You can do this by taking a food intolerance test. The next step is identifying and eliminating foods that contain garlic or garlic-derived ingredients. This may involve reading food labels carefully and avoiding processed foods that may contain hidden garlic.
  • Enzyme Supplements: Some individuals with garlic intolerance may benefit from enzyme supplements that help break down garlic compounds during digestion. These supplements can be taken before meals containing garlic.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics, which promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, may assist in managing digestive symptoms associated with garlic intolerance. Including probiotic-rich foods or taking supplements can be beneficial.

 

Garlic Intolerance Remedies

Some herbal remedies, such as peppermint or ginger tea, may help alleviate digestive symptoms associated with garlic intolerance. These herbs are known for their soothing effects on the digestive system.

Activated charcoal supplements may help absorb excess gas in the digestive tract, reducing bloating and discomfort. However, it’s crucial to use activated charcoal under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Aloe vera, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, may be soothing for individuals experiencing gastrointestinal upset due to garlic intolerance. Aloe vera supplements or gel can be considered with caution.

 

Is There a Relationship Between an Intolerance to Onions and Garlic, and Why Is This?

Garlic and onions both belong to the Allium family and share similar compounds that can cause digestive distress in some individuals. The primary culprits are fructans, a type of fermentable carbohydrate that can be difficult for some people to digest. Individuals who are intolerant to onions may also experience intolerance to garlic and vice versa due to the shared presence of fructans.

Moreover, individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gastrointestinal conditions may be more prone to developing sensitivities to certain foods, including garlic and onions. The fermentable nature of fructans can contribute to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort in susceptible individuals.

 

How Common Is a Garlic Intolerance?

The prevalence of garlic intolerance can vary among individuals and populations. While it is not as common as lactose intolerance, for example, garlic intolerance is not rare. Certain factors may increase the likelihood of developing an intolerance, including:

  • Genetic Factors: Genetic predisposition may play a role in the development of food intolerances, including garlic intolerance. Individuals with a family history of food intolerances may be more susceptible.
  • Gastrointestinal Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), may be at a higher risk of developing garlic intolerance.

 

What foods should I avoid if i have a garlic allergy or intolerance

Managing garlic intolerance involves avoiding not only fresh garlic but also processed foods that may contain garlic-derived ingredients. Here are some common sources of garlic that individuals with garlic intolerance should be cautious of:

  • Fresh Garlic
  • Garlic Powder
  • Garlic Salt
  • Garlic Oil
  • Processed and Prepared Foods

 

Alternatives to garlic

For those with garlic allergies or intolerances, finding flavourful alternatives is key to maintaining an enjoyable and diverse diet. Here are some substitutes that can add a burst of flavour without the use of garlic:

  • Garlic-Free Seasonings
  • Herbs and Spices such as parsley and chives 
  • Citrus Zest
  • Ginger and Turmeric
  • Roasted Vegetables

While garlic intolerance and allergies can pose challenges, understanding the signs, symptoms, and management strategies empowers individuals to navigate their dietary choices effectively. Whether opting for garlic alternatives or exploring remedies to alleviate symptoms, individuals with garlic intolerance can enjoy a diverse and satisfying culinary experience. As with any dietary concern, consulting with a healthcare professional is essential for personalised guidance and support in managing garlic intolerance or allergies. By embracing creative alternatives and making informed choices, individuals with garlic sensitivity can savour delicious meals while prioritising their well-being.

FAQ

Q: What are the common symptoms of a garlic intolerance or allergy?

A: Common symptoms of garlic allergies or intolerances include nausea, bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and, in severe cases, skin rashes, hives, and respiratory issues. People with garlic intolerance may also experience symptoms like fatigue and joint pain.

Q: How can I determine if I have an intolerance to garlic?

A: To determine if you have an intolerance to garlic, you can take an intolerance test. This may involve a blood test, a skin prick test, or an elimination diet monitored by a healthcare provider.

Q: Can garlic affect people differently when it’s cooked versus raw?

A: Yes, some people who are intolerant or allergic to raw garlic may be able to tolerate cooked garlic. Cooking garlic often changes its chemical composition, reducing its potential to cause reactions in some individuals.

Q: What should I do if I experience severe symptoms after eating garlic?

A: If you experience severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, swelling, or anaphylaxis after eating garlic, seek immediate medical attention. An allergy test can help diagnose your sensitivity, and it is advisable to avoid garlic in the future.

Q: Are garlic allergies common?

A: Garlic allergies are rare, but intolerances are more common. Both can cause uncomfortable symptoms, but proper testing can help manage the condition.

Q: What precautions should I take if I have a garlic intolerance?

A: If you have a garlic intolerance, thoroughly check food labels for garlic or garlic-derived ingredients, inform restaurant staff of your intolerance, and consider preparing meals at home without garlic to avoid unintended exposure.

Q: Can I use garlic substitutes if I am allergic to garlic?

A: Yes, if you are allergic to garlic, you can use substitutes like asafoetida, chives, or onions (if not also intolerant to onion) to add flavor to your dishes without the risk of an allergic reaction to garlic.

Q: What is an allergy and intolerance test and how is it done?

A: An allergy and intolerance test can include methods like a blood test, a skin prick test, or an elimination diet. These tests help identify specific food allergies or intolerances, including those to garlic.

Q: Can touching garlic cause a reaction?

A: Yes, in some cases, touching garlic can cause a reaction such as skin irritation or contact dermatitis in people with garlic sensitivity. It is advisable to use gloves when handling garlic if you are sensitive to it.

Q: Is it common to have sensitivity to both garlic and onion?

A: Sensitivity to both garlic and onion is not uncommon as both belong to the Allium family. People with garlic and onion intolerance may experience similar symptoms and should possibly avoid both to prevent adverse reactions.

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