General Health Wednesday January 25, 2012

Understanding your food allergies and intolerances

As this week hails awareness of food allergies and intolerances, the aim is to remedy the lack of information – or, often, misinformation - on the differences between the two conditions and the respective symptoms, diagnostics and preventions.

What the campaign hopes to achieve is the acknowledgement that these conditions do not only affect food choice, but also the ways in which the effects on sufferers of these conditions affect them in a social context.

Lindsey McManus, Deputy CEO, of medical charity Allergy UK – who strongly support the campaign – agrees that "there is not enough help out there for people with these conditions and we are committed as an organisation to providing support to the thousands of sufferers out there."

Food Allergy

Consumption of a particular food, mistakenly fought off by an antibody (IgE), can release natural chemicals, such as histamine, from cells into the body, and dependent on which area they are released in is the part of the body which bears the symptoms.

A food allergy is normally recognised by an immediate response by the immune system, resulting in a range of physical effects, including, amongst others:

• rashes

• diarrhoea

• swelling to the face

• shortness of breath

• vomiting

If the level of response is cause for concern, it is imperative to seek medical attention and to be treated with prescribed medication.

Food Intolerance

An intolerance to food can be as a consequence of a number of different causes such as enzyme defects, histamine found in certain foods, and foods containing natural toxic substances (to which some people may be especially susceptible). This is also known as non-allergic hypersensitivity.

Over-consumption of the offending food can make sufferers aware that they have built up an intolerance, whereby the various elements of the food cannot be broken down quick enough before it is consumed again.

Possible symptoms include:

• bloating

• diarrhoea

• migraines


• general lethargy

Intolerances are more difficult to determine than allergies, as the effects usually do not take immediate effect, and can take hours to surface.

They are more common than allergies.

Diagnostic and Prevention

At its simplest, a food allergy can be determined by a skin or blood test. As explained by Lab Tests Online, "once the list of possible allergens has been narrowed, specific testing can be done." In more difficult cases, such as when the cause of reaction cannot be identified, an elimination diet - the removal of likely food allergens - can point out which food(s) the body may be allergic to.

In order to prevent or delay the effects of food allergies ensure that those around you are aware of your condition; wear a medical bracelet or the suchlike, alerting first-aiders of the problem; and, above all, simply avoid the foods you know will cause a reaction.

Elimination diets can also be used to determine food intolerances, whereby prolonged elimination of a suspect food can actually build up a tolerance to it – enabling occasional consumption. Caution must be taken when making these changes to your diet; completely cutting out a certain food could result in withdrawal-like symptoms. Such testing should be carried out carefully, and after medical consultation.

Try keeping a food diary to judge your body’s level of tolerance to particular foods and to note any relation between food and symptoms.

Social Effects

Identifying these conditions is hard enough as it is, but managing them can prove just as difficult in a social context. Going out to restaurants can prove challenging, and even though more and more of them are ensuring that they provide allergy-appropriate options, as well as detailing use of ingredients, sufferers cannot always be sure what they are eating.

Having to plan where and when you eat, according to your dietary needs, can have a considerable effect on social eating. However, as conditions are better understood, there are a growing number of specialised shops and websites dedicated to 'Free-From' foods and recipes, enabling sufferers to cater for themselves more efficiently.

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