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Condition - Food allergy and Intolerance

By Jenny Bodenham BA (Hons) DipION MBANT

Food allergies and intolerances are becoming increasingly common, to the point where supermarkets are now providing “free-from” ranges and many restaurants and cafés offer gluten-free and milk-free options. But what are food allergies and how do they differ from food intolerances?

A classic food allergy only affects around 2% of the population but symptoms can be severe and sudden. The immune system doesn’t recognise the food eaten and, inappropriately, produces IgE antibodies to attack the “invader”. Common allergens are nuts and seafood, which may provoke symptoms from itching eyes, rash or swelling to, in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock.

In contrast, food intolerances are much more common. Considered by some to be the scourge of the “chattering classes”, in reality a food intolerance may significantly undermine wellbeing. Food intolerances may occur when IgG antibodies are triggered, as the result of a reaction to specific foods. Bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea can be just some of the symptoms caused. Lethargy, “foggy” brain, migraine and aching joints are also common. Almost any food can cause a reaction but foods eaten most regularly are often the chief culprits – typically, wheat and dairy products, closely followed by other gluten grains, eggs and yeast. Symptoms may be delayed for hours or even days after eating the food, making it very difficult to pinpoint the culprit. Having several intolerances further confounds the situation! But, don’t worry, help is at hand in the form of a simple pin-prick blood test that can be done in the comfort of your own home.

Other causes of intolerance include chemical sensitivity or lack of the appropriate enzyme for digestion, such as lactase needed to digest milk sugar (lactose). In this case, supplementing digestive enzymes may be beneficial.

If a food intolerance is confirmed, the food should be avoided for at least three months and then gradually reintroduced. The good news is that there are many tasty substitutes to the common food intolerance culprits: Coconut butter can be used as a dairy-free spread and you can buy excellent wheat-free flours, dairy-free milks and even egg replacers.

A digestive disturbance is often the underlying cause of food intolerance. Stress, eating on the run, excessive alcohol, poor diet, infections and some medications can all lower gut defences. This may lead to inflammation and increased permeability of the gut lining, referred to as “leaky gut”. A leaky gut allows partially-digested food particles to enter the bloodstream, triggering the IgG antibody response. So it makes sense to support digestion with digestive enzymes and focus on addressing leaky gut issues, while avoiding the foods which trigger the problems.

Glutamine is an amino acid that provides fuel for the cells of the gut lining, supporting growth and gut cell maintenance. Additionally, supplementing with probiotic bacteria may help to replace gas-producing bad bacteria and also enhance immunity. A multivitamin and mineral supplement can help to ensure that you are not lacking vital nutrients, to ensure optimal gut health. 

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