What to do if you suspect a food intolerance
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. As Food Allergy Awareness Week is honoured each May (13-19 May this year) I want to give you the lowdown on food allergy and intolerance, and what to do 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 of 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 another substance 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.
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.
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.
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, 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
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 created through the body if your system doesn’t like something you are repeatedly feeding it will almost certainly lead to worse stuff in the future because that’s the way these things work. ALL chronic disease is caused by inflammation of one sort or another.
So how can you ascertain if a certain food is causing a reaction?
You may have heard of IgG food intolerance tests. IgG stands for Immunoglobulin G – an antibody protein produced by the immune system’s B-cells. The theory is that measuring IgG antibodies to a particular food will measure how much of an “attack” your body is mounting against that food. But IgG’s link to food intolerance or weak allergies has yet to be scientifically established as IgG antibodies in reality measure exposure to a given food, not an allergic response to it. Positive IgG results can just indicate a food that has been eaten regularly as much as it might indicate a food intolerance.
This is why I do not recommend it.
Elimination diets, on the other hand, are considered the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities. By cutting out foods you suspect you might have a problem with for a period of time, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, is the first, easiest, and most effective place to start. And can be truly transformative.
There are several types of elimination diets: basic and full elimination diet, the FODMAP diet, the nightshade elimination diet, the PALEO diet just to mention some.
Use caution when eliminating foods from your diet. Reducing the number of foods you eat can lead to poor nutrition, especially for children. This is why it always a good idea to discuss it with a nutritionist.
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 you to get to the bottom of the problem, and bring your body back into balance.
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