1 in 3 people in the UK believe that they have a food allergy, and think that it may be adversely affecting their health.
Allergy or Intolerance?
Many people confuse the terms allergy and intolerance, something that is worrying to doctors, as an allergy could be trivialised and not taken for the potentially serious condition that it is.
An allergy results when a person has an extreme and abnormally high sensitivity to a normally harmless substance. It is possible to be allergic to virtually anything from foods, environmental chemicals, artificial food additives to yeast or fungi. Classic allergy can be life-threatening resulting in Anaphylaxis, a potentially serious collapse that can hinder breathing.
Symptoms can include a skin rash, nausea, fatigue, stomach pains, nasal congestion, dizziness, watery eyes, headaches, dark circles under the eyes and insomnia.
An intolerance can be uncomfortable, but is rarely life-threatening, but could possibly lead to long-term illnesses such as Arthritis, Asthma, Eczema and IBS. It occurs when the body lacks an enzyme to breakdown a certain food, e.g. a person who is intolerant to milk simply lacks the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose (a milk sugar). It is when undigested lactose passes into the gut that it starts to cause a problem, usually, in the case of dairy, excess gas and bloating.
Because reactions to food can be delayed, sometimes up to 3 days, the culprit food can be difficult to detect, whereas with an allergy, the reaction tends to be instant and occur every time the culprit food is ingested.
Why are we experiencing such a growth of food intolerances?
The introduction of wheat and dairy is a relatively new thing in our diets. We are also eating more foods out of season alongside limited diets – eating the same foods too often, e.g. wheat at every meal in various guises. The hygiene hypothesis states that now our environments are cleaner and we are obsessed with everything being sterile and anti-bacterial, children’s’ immune system are not as robust as they used to be, coupled with the alarming rise in antibiotic use; our immune systems are under constant assault.
Wheat: An intolerance or sensitivity to wheat is a common cause of tiredness, water retention, loss of concentration and digestive problems. When we stop to consider how often it is eaten, we may be consuming it at every meal; wheat-based cereal or toast, sandwich for lunch and pasta in the evening, and that’s not including any biscuits, cakes or snacks during the day.
Dairy: Some who cannot tolerate dairy products are ok with butter, the reason is that it’s the milk protein that triggers the reactions and butter is nearly 100% fat. Dairy produce can cause cramps, wind, diarrhoea, eczema, tingling lips, sneezing or sinus problems.
Sheep or goats’ milk may be better tolerated, this is due to the difference in the proteins; they are different, but not different enough to make them tolerable for everyone.
Yeast: Yeast is another common allergen. Present in many foods and drinks, so careful examination of labels is required if you are avoiding it. Those who react to yeast are likely to have a strong reaction to alcohol, in particular wine and beer. Also ensure that you don’t eat out of date foods.
Chocolate, Coffee & Nuts: These are in the pip/nut family. If you react to nuts (not peanuts are they are from another food family), it is possible you’ll react in some way to chocolate and coffee.
Additives: There are 100’s of chemicals permitted for food use, with the 2 most common triggers being monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the colouring tartrazine (E102). As your diet changes to contain more wholefoods, it will naturally become lower in food additives.
Other common food trigger are sulfites (a group of chemicals found in wine and seafood). Foods rich in the amino acid tyramine such as blue Cheeses, beer, wine and canned food can provoke migraines – as can Chocolate, Caffeine and Citrus (can also cause aching joints), think of the 4 C’s.
Histamine is found in red wine and yeast and can provoke sneezing, swelling and itching.
Another trigger food is eggs, not to be confused with dairy. Eggs can trigger headaches, behavioural and skin problems (a rash around the mouth and swelling of the face); however this is seen more often in children than adults.
Testing: The most accurate test is a blood analysis. The immune system is responsible for reacting to offending foods and producing the allergic response, in doing so it produces substances called markers. A blood test measures levels of certain markers produced in response to the trigger. There are many intolerance tests on the market but many are inaccurate. You should look for an IgG response test. This is something that I can arrange for you.
An exclusion diet may be employed, eliminating suspect foods for a period of time (minimum 2 weeks), and reintroducing them one by one (with 3 days in-between) and monitoring for any adverse reactions. his NB. For those with allergies, particularly to nuts, take care to read labels for skincare products and make-up as some contain peanut oil.
Thrive Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health Eve Morley N.T AMNNA FNTP NFPTA