Food Allergies and Intolerances

Food allergies cause a reaction in the body’s immune system causing various effects on different organs. Hence, a food allergy can be severe or life-threatening and so a certain type of food cannot be consumed at all. Whereas with food intolerance, the body can cope with small amounts of a type of food without a reaction and there are ways in which this intolerance can be prevented.

Milk, gluten, nuts and eggs are common foods that induce reactions, however effectively any food has the potential to cause an adverse effect. It is estimated that between 1 to 2% of people in the UK have a food allergy, although 30% “believe” that they are allergic or intolerant to certain types of food. Therefore, it is important that sufferers who “believe” they have intolerance seek advice from their doctor before changing their diet.

Food intolerance can be caused by: enzyme absence; meaning food cannot be digested, irritable bowel syndrome, food poisoning, food additive sensitivity, stress or celiac disease. Such symptoms that may develop include abdominal pains, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, fatigue, headaches, stomach cramps and weight loss.

% of population with intolerance to certain food groups
% of population with intolerance to certain food groups

 

Over the past few months I have come to realise that I may be intolerant to certain types of food. Over a year ago I went to Ecuador on an aid-working expedition where I contracted gastroenteritis; an infection of the gut. Possible complications of the disease include lactose intolerance as the gut lining can be damaged leading to a lack of the chemical enzyme lactase which is required to digest lactose. Thus, recently I have been drinking soya milk instead of regular milk and my symptoms seemed to have calmed slightly. Nevertheless I have visited my doctor where I had a blood test to see if I have any allergies, and I will get the results back soon to see if my self-diagnosis is correct.

Map presenting lactose intolerance globally
Map presenting lactose intolerance globally

 

So why do not all people develop allergies? As a baby the body becomes tolerant to a multitude of proteins that it encounters in the first stages of its life. Such mechanisms it undergoes are still unknown, hence research would be able to reveal if the timing of introducing foods is important in order for normal tolerance to function. Most childhood allergies disappear after 12-24 months, however why this is, is unclear. There is limited knowledge as well with why allergic diseases develop, though existing diseases such as asthma may influence them.

In conclusion, if after eating a particular food you have a reaction ensure you visit your doctor as soon as possible to see if you have an intolerance or allergy. Keeping a food diary can also help if you have unexplained constipation or stomach cramps in order to identify a trigger food. If you wish to know more about this aspect of nutrition visit: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience.html.

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