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  • Writer's pictureGemma Westfold

Food Allergy or Intolerance?

An allergy and an intolerance are vitally different; However they are sometimes confused as both descriptions are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Many people are clear that a nut allergy can be very dangerous and can result in death but, outside of this, a 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. 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.

The body produces IgE antibodies in response to a particular 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 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 that food forever. That’s because part of the immune system works based on memory. In the same way your body remembers its response to a vaccination you were given as a child (and can prepare its attack should it encounter polio again), it remembers its response to nuts, dairy, or whatever. You only need to have a small amount of a reactive 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 organise these for you. Whatever your specific symptoms are, a tailored nutrition plan can really help.

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 etc.) 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.

Coeliac Disease

A special note must be made for coeliac disease. Whilst this is thought of as an allergy to gluten, and it indeed it is, it is very different to a true IgE allergy as contact with gluten incites an IgA reaction – a different immune cell entirely. Most importantly, it is an autoimmune disease which means that upon consumption of gluten, the coeliac will start producing antibodies that damage their very own cells. Whilst once mistakenly thought to only elicit gastrointestinal symptoms, it is now widely accepted that only 1 in 8 of those with undiagnosed coeliac disease suffer with their gut and most symptoms are systemic (throughout the body) and range from neurological disorders (depression, anxiety, brain fog) to ataxia (problems with the gait) rashes (dermatitis Hepetiformis), tingling or numbness in hands and feed and in children, failure to thrive. This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is a very serious condition and merits it’s own newsletter – which will come soon. Suffice to say if you have it or suspect that you have it then I would be happy to chat to you about this. It is a personal interest of mine both as a nutritional therapist but also as a mother who manages this daily for her child.

Food intolerance

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

  • Bloating

  • Migraines

  • Headaches

  • Coughs (frequent)

  • Runny nose

  • Itchy or overly waxy ears

  • Stomach ache

  • Irritable bowel symptoms or IBS

  • Hives

  • Fatigue

  • Asthma

  • Arthritis

  • Blocked nose

  • Ear Infections

  • Eczema

  • Sinusitis

  • Urticaria (hives).

Although the symptoms might seem less dramatic, you must dig into food intolerances, especially if you’ve had niggly issues for years. This is because it causes low-grade inflammation through the body if your system doesn’t like something you are repeatedly feeding it and 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, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, this can often be more difficult than it would appear, especially if you are not entirely sure which foods might be problematic. I can help with this, quite a lot of what I do with clients is making sure there are not inflammatory intolerances.

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.

This month I am offering free Reboot your Health 30-minute calls to all who are going through this. Nutrition is KEY at this time, let me help you get yours on track with a 12 week programme. This can suit each budget and range from 4 consultations to 12. And you will always get a personalised nutrition plan, supplement plan (if necessary), testing interpretation (GP or private), a menu plan and a deeper understanding of how YOUR body works, not just that blogger you follow. Book here No time like the present!

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