Treating food allergies and intolerances

Food intolerances & food allergies

Food intolerances and allergies are on the increase in the UK to the point where the media are talking of “epidemic”. Is it really that bad and how does it affect you?

There are estimated to be 2 million people in the UK with true food allergies but the latest estimates for food intolerances are now saying that 45% of the UK population have an intolerance to certain foods and the problem is still growing.

Firstly what’s the difference between the two conditions? This is a topic hotly debated on both medical and holistic health circles so I’ll use the most commonly agreed upon definitions. The medical definition of an allergy is when a specific antibody – immunoglobulin E (IGe) – is generated by the body in response to a normally harmless substance, for example peanuts. When the antigen comes along (in this case peanut) packets of chemicals are suddenly released from special immune cells called mast cells, one of the main substances being histamine. Hence the most common form of allergy treatment – antihistamines.

The main features of allergies are that they are often virtually instantaneous in their effects, with mouth and throat tissue reacting on contact, even before the substance has reached the stomach to be digested. Allergic reactions can be very serious even fatal and it is important that people who suspect they have true allergies get themselves tested and, if appropriate armed with the relevant treatments in case of accidental contact.

It used to be thought that allergies only started early in life but this picture too is changing although it is not really understood why yet. Unfortunately it is very difficult to rid yourself of an allergy, once you have one the only way forward is avoidance of the triggers.

By contrast food intolerances are slower, taking between half an hour and 4 days to show up symptoms which can range from skin rashes to stomach pain making the problem food much harder to identify. The major causes for new food intolerances are stress and overdosing.

How stress affects the body

Stress or any emotional upheaval puts a huge strain on the physical body, in particular the immune system. Foods which the body may have been tolerating when everything else was in good shape suddenly become too much for the compromised system to cope with and the body starts to let you know its not happy. Unfortunately we’ve become very bad at listening to what our bodies are telling us and either ignore the signs or drown them with painkillers, indigestion remedies or even with more food.

Because we tend to be creatures of habit we often eat the same foods far too often, but eating the same things all the time can put a strain on our system to the point where the body in a plea for variety starts to complain. A good rule of thumb is not to eat the same food more than twice a week.

Milk, wheat, yeast and sugar

The nutritionist Patrick Holford says that wheat should form 6% of our diet, for most people in the UK it forms over 30% of the diet. So when people ask me why wheat and dairy always come up in intolerance tests, I answer that actually they don’t always but they are common because we all eat far too much of those things in our diet.

The two other very common intolerance causing foods are yeast and sugar which is why most people giving up bread will feel better. Commercially made bread will often contain milk protein as well as wheat, yeast and sugar – all four major intolerances in one go!

It is worth noting also that even if you’re not intolerant to wheat you may find it difficult to digest because of the high gluten content. Thanks to selective breading of wheat grain to be more pest resistant, higher yielding and easier to grow, gluten content has increased dramatically over the last 40 years. This is why some people can cope with bread made from spelt flour but not regular wheat. Spelt is an ancient relative of modern common wheat which was widely grown by the Romans.

Treating food intolerances

The good news for those with food intolerances is that often the intolerance can be treated by eliminating the problem food from the diet for a suitable length of time before carefully reintroducing it.

So what should you do if you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance? If you suspect you or your child has an allergy – i.e. instant or severe reactions such as lip or throat swelling and or breathing difficulties but you’re not sure of all the triggers persuade your GP to request allergy testing.

Unfortunately this is now very hard to get through the NHS, so you may have to push hard for this. If on the other hand you have grumbling ongoing symptoms such as irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, catarrh, headaches, bloating, fatigue, water retention, mood swings etc then it is probably worth getting yourself tested for food intolerances.

Nutritional Therapy BedfordAbout The Author

Carole Batchelor, based in Kempston Rural Bedford is a Food Intolerance Therapist, Thought Field Therapist and member of the British Complementary Medicine Association.

Find out more about Carole’s work by visiting her GoToSee profile page here


Carole can be contacted on:
07852 100480

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