Many people are clear that a nut allergy can be a very dangerous thing resulting, on occasion, in death. But, outside of this, food allergy isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. This might be in part because people don’t know which symptoms to look out for. And it also might be that some people use food allergy and intolerance interchangeably. So today, I want to give you the lowdown on both, and let you know what you can do for yourself if you suspect there are foods that don’t agree with you.
To start, let’s get clear what a FOOD ALLERGY is…
A true food allergy is an abnormal reaction made by the body’s immune system to a particular food. This can range from a mild reaction to one that is severe and life-threatening (anaphylaxis).
The body produces IgE antibodies in response to a food, drink or other substances the body mistakenly thinks is attacking it. The issue can be restricted to one area (your digestive system, skin and so on) or the whole body, where the immune system triggers widespread inflammation and swelling – anaphylaxis – which can be deadly. The reaction is often immediate or certainly occurs very soon after eating even a small amount of a problem food.
It is estimated 6-8% or children and up to 3% of adult have a true food allergy.
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (this is called anaphylaxis) can include the following and you should act immediately since this can be life-threatening:
- Constriction and tightening of the airways
- A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
If you have a food allergy, you will need to avoid the food forever. That’s because part of the immune system works on the basis of memory. In exactly the same way your body remembers its response to, say, the polio vaccination you were given as a child (and can prepare its attack should it come into contact with polio again), it remembers its response to nuts, dairy, or whatever. You only need to have a small amount of a suspect food for your immune system to go into overdrive.
If you think you have a food allergy, you can often get tested free of charge via your GP, but private tests are also available. Please let me know if you are interested in this kind of testing as I can organize these for you.
One clinical pearl I’m going to share with you is that, if you’re struggling with the symptoms of a true allergy (itchy eyes, swelling and the like) yet testing reveals no problem foods the answer might be in the gut. Parasites also cause the body to produce high levels of IgE antibodies (the same antibodies made when you have a food allergy), yet these are not often considered by conventional medicine as a potential cause of allergy-like symptoms.
An intolerance is something very different, producing low grade inflammation through the body and symptoms that are far ranging but altogether less dramatic. These can include the following:
Weight that won’t shift
Itchy or overly waxy ears
Irritable bowel symptoms (bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation or alternating bowel movements)
Although the symptoms might seem less dramatic, it really is worth dealing with food intolerances especially if you’ve had niggly issues for years. This is because the low-grade inflammation through the body if your system doesn’t like something you are repeatedly feeding it, will almost certainly lead to a worsening of symptoms in the future because that’s the way these things work. ALL chronic disease is caused by inflammation of one sort or another.
Although you can do your own elimination diet, cutting out foods you suspect you might have a problem with for a period of time, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, this can be time consuming if you are not entirely sure which foods might be problematic.
A couple of drops of blood and finger prick blood test is all you need to get a reliable reading of what your body is objecting to. Ask me for details if you experience any of the symptoms I listed above.
In case you’re wondering, if you have a food intolerance, you don’t have to remove the food forever but it’s important to know that it’s not enough to just take the food out and not do anything about it.
If you find you have a food intolerance, this is your body telling you your gut needs some TLC to restore, rebalance and heal. Without this vital step, you’re likely to end up (over time) with more intolerances and more symptoms.
If you are wondering whether you have an allergy or intolerance, please do get in touch. I can help by offering a variety of testing options to help get to the bottom of the problem, and my gut health programmes can help bring your body back into balance.