Many people nowadays suffer from either food allergies or intolerances. These general ‘food upsets’ can lead to some significant symptoms and can be quite debilitating for the sufferer. There has been a general trend that food allergies and intolerances are on the rise, but medically the reason for this is yet to be determined. Many people with food upsets interestingly do not realise that they are indeed suffering from either an allergy or intolerance and just bear the discomfort. But effective management strategies exist to alleviate the signs and symptoms of food upsets so it is worth exploring these.
What Is A Food Allergy?
Food allergies happen due to an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a food protein. Around 2 in every 100 Australian adults suffer from food allergies. Most food allergies start in infancy or as a toddler and can be outgrown – such as egg and milk allergy, which are usually outgrown by the time children are school-aged. Food allergies do not appear to be genetic, but if you have a sibling with a food allergy then you have an increased chance of developing a food allergy also.
The symptoms of food allergy can be life threatening. The key feature, though, of an allergy is that the reaction occurs every time to even just small amounts of the substance.
Common symptoms include:
- Itching, burning and swelling around the mouth
- Runny nose
- Skin rash (eczema)
- Diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
- Breathing difficulties, including wheezing and asthma
- Vomiting, nausea
The most common foods to cause an allergic reaction in a hypersensitive individual include (in order):
- Uncooked egg
- Tree nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Prawns and other crustaceans
Food allergies are diagnosed by a skin prick test or allergy blood test. Sometimes these tests can come back ‘false positive’, which means that they have detected an allergy but you have never experienced any symptoms. In this case a food challenge may be required where you will be given small amounts of the food, under medical supervision, to see if you react.
What Is A Food Intolerance?
A food intolerance, on the other hand, is a ‘chemical’ reaction that some people have after eating or drinking certain foods; it is not an immune response. It essentially means that individuals are unable to properly digest that food, which can lead to bloating, pain and either diarrhoea or constipation. Surveys indicate that up to 25 per cent of the population believe they have some sort of food intolerance and they often run in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition.
Food intolerance has been associated with asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can cause significant symptoms which can come on hours or even days after you have eaten a particular type of food. This makes it difficult to pinpoint what exactly it is that you are intolerant to. Food intolerances can also get worse depending on how much of the food you have eaten.
People who have a food intolerance react to chemicals which either occur naturally in that food or are added to it during processing. Different people will tolerate different amounts of chemicals. The amount of the chemical that causes symptoms is called the ‘dose threshold’. Some people have a high dose threshold to all food chemicals and may never have symptoms after eating foods. These people typically will never experience food intolerances throughout their life. Food intolerances can occur suddenly following an illness, change in diet, major life stress, pregnancy or surgical procedure.
More than one type of chemical may cause symptoms, so a person may react to many different types of foods. Some foods contain the same chemicals and a person can react after eating any of those particular foods. This is because the chemical slowly builds up in the body until the dose threshold is reached. It also explains why the same food does not cause symptoms every time it is eaten, because the amount eaten, in this instance, was not enough to cross the dose threshold.
Symptoms That Suggest You Have a Food Intolerance
Common symptoms of food intolerances include:
- Headache, migraine
- Abdominal pains
- Bloating with excessive wind
- Mouth ulcers
- Flu-like aches and pains
- Mood changes
- Burning sensations on the skin
- Breathing problems – asthma-like symptoms
Holistic Medical Doctor