Are you allergic or intolerant? Or have lousy digestion? The confusion clarified!

food+allergies*

So you cannot eat certain foods, or your children cannot. Or you and your children have the same food issues. But how do you know if you are allergic or intolerant? And why are your symptoms becoming worse with age?

Allergies have become a modern epidemic, so many children and adults now suffer from singular or multiple allergies, but sometimes they actually have multiple food intolerances and not in actual fact allergies, or may have a mix of both.

Some people find that foods, which they ate with great enjoyment in their youth – or for most of their lives, suddenly cause them to become incredibly sick.

For mothers of small children, sending them to playgroup or a friend’s place can be a stressful experience which involves packing a Anaphylaxis pen in their children’s bags. Some children’s allergic responses to certain foods or animals is so drastic that it can cause certain death.

Are children becoming more sensitive, or is it the quality of our foods? Are our immune systems more delicate, or as parents, are we not allowing our children to develop natural defences through the clean world we live in?

As adults, are we just not eating enough foods to strengthen our immune systems, or are we too stressed all of the time? Putting strain on our digestive system? Or is it due to genetics?

What are the symptoms of an allergy?

Food allergies arise from a sensitivity to natural chemical compounds in food. Food allergies are commonly found in people whose family members have allergies, suggesting genetic or a hereditary factors may play a role in the development of food allergies.

Food allergies develop after you are exposed to a food protein that your body thinks is harmful. The first time you eat the food containing the protein, your immune system will respond by creating a specific disease-fighting antibody called immunoglobulin E or IgE. The next time you eat the food, it triggers the release of IgE antibodies and other chemicals, including histamine, in an effort to expel the protein “invader” from your body. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system.

The allergy symptoms you have depend on where in the body the histamine is released. If it is released in the ears, nose and throat, you may have an itchy nose and mouth, or trouble breathing or swallowing. If histamine is released in the skin, you may develop hives or a rash. If histamine is released in the gastrointestinal tract, you likely will develop stomach pains, cramps or diarrhoea. It is not uncommon to experience a combination of symptoms as you eat the food and digest it.

Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe, and the amount of food necessary to trigger a reaction will vary from person to person. Symptoms of a food allergy may include:

  • Rash or hives
  • Nausea
  • Cramping stomach pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of the airways to the lungs
  • The worst symptom can be Anaphylaxis, which is a very serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction that involves a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and body system failure. Thank goodness for the invention of the Anaphylactic pen!

What are the symptoms of food Intolerance?

Food intolerance is much more common than food allergies. If left undiagnosed, they are just as harmful to the body over a long period of time as food allergies are. Although not an immune response, but a digestive response, food intolerances occur when there is something in the food that irritates the digestive system, or it cannot properly digest or break it down. The slow ongoing damage to the intestinal tract – which science is finding out is the basis to all our good or ill health, will cause our immune systems to struggle, and cause us to have chronic health issues.

To diagnose what food you are intolerant to can be challenging, as the onset of symptoms is usually slower and may be delayed by many hours after eating the offending food. The symptoms may also last for several hours or several days.

There are many factors that may contribute to food intolerance. In some cases such as with lactose or milk intolerance, the person lacks the enzymes necessary, to properly digest certain proteins found in food. Also common are intolerances to some chemical ingredients added to food to provide colour, enhance taste and protect against the growth of bacteria. These ingredients include various dyes and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer.

Substances called sulphites, which may occur naturally as in red wine, or may be added to prevent the growth of mould in wine and some foods, also are a source of intolerance for some people. Salicylates are a group of plant chemicals found naturally in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, juices, beer and wine. Aspirin also is a compound of the salicylate family.

Although only 1 percent of the population is Celiac, there is a belief that at least 45% of the population today is intolerant to gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley as well as oats grown in wheat fields. Why this is the case is another blog post!

Unlike a food allergy, which hits fast and hard, food intolerance is more chronic, less acute and often more difficult to diagnose than a food allergy. Symptoms vary greatly. They can include:

  • General symptoms– fatigue, joint pains, dark circles under the eyes, night sweats
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms– mouth ulcers, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, intermittent diarrhea and/or constipation, irritable bowel syndrome
  • Skin symptoms– rashes, eczema
  • Respiratory tract symptoms– nasal congestion, sinusitis, cough, asthma
  • Other chronic conditions – reoccurring cystitis, thrush, migraines.

Food intolerances can also be linked to gaining unwanted weight. Foods with dairy and sugar can cause unhealthy bacterial overgrowth and produce toxins that trigger inflammation and swelling of the intestines, thus preventing normal digestion and causing weight gain. You can gain up to 13 kilos a year due to a food intolerance.

You can eliminate chronic symptoms and the suffering they cause by identifying and eliminating offending foods and ingredients from your diet. But it is not always easy to identify the offending food because so often the effects of food intolerances are delayed. Keep a food diary for a month, also mentioning when you have health of stomach issues, this should show you a pattern which should help you track down the offending food or foods.

Food allergies affect about 1% of adults and 7 % of children, although some children outgrow their allergies. Food intolerances are much more common. In fact, nearly everyone at one time has had an unpleasant reaction to something they ate. Gluten and lactose intolerance is growing every year by 10%

By taking a few simple steps can help you prevent the symptoms associated with a food intolerance.

  • Learn which foods in which amounts cause you to have symptoms.
  • When you dine out, ask your server about how your meal will be prepared. Some meals may contain foods you cannot tolerate, and that may not be evident from the description on the menu.
  • Learn to read food labels and check the ingredients for problem foods. Don’t forget to check condiments and seasonings. They may contain MSG or another additive that can lead to symptoms.
  • When dining out, always start a meal with a digestive enzyme which is available from a chemist or a health food store selling natural practitioner prescription medications over the counter.

With food allergies, always carry an anaphylactic pen, and do not feel embarrassed to discuss every meal you eat before ordering.

The one question I have not covered is the why food we ate as children now gives us all the symptoms of someone who is intolerant to those same foods. There are a few possibilities for that.

One – our digestive enzymes decrease as we get older, making it harder for our digestion to digest some foods. Certain foods such as red meat, are hard work for most people’s digestive system if not slow cooked. When young, we get over it, when older, it causes us grief. A digestive enzyme, which can be purchased over the counter (no script required) from any good pharmacy, taken with each and every meal should help you. Also, some kindness to your body please, maybe that huge milkshake which was not a good idea at 20 is definitely a tragic idea at 50!

Two – you have become intolerant to the food, because of the above. Or unfortunately so many foods, unless you choose to eat only organic, are over processed, or grown in such a way that they are devoid of their natural enzymes which our bodies need to help digest them (but that is another blog post!).

Three – are you just not eating a diet that supports good digestion? A diet high in vegetables and legumes, supports our digestion and intestinal system. Large quantities of greens assist our gut to produce healthy flora. Sugar, alcohol, antibiotics, coffee and stress are all killers of these microscopic bacteria. These bacteria are called Probiotics, they do a multitude of functions you can’t live without. These friendly bacteria are a major part of our immune system and we need them desperately. Probiotics to a person with bowel problems is like giving a fireman water to put out the fire. You’ve got to have it. Water is the other must. 95% of people are dehydrated just like they are fibre deficient. To assist the gut to flush out all of our dead waste, which can also cause indigestion, we need to drink adequate amounts of clean purified water (not tap water as the chlorine and fluoride kills the friendly bacteria)

If you are eating carefully, consciously making sure you are doing everything right, yet still really struggling with your allergies or food intolerances, Homeopathy, if prescribed by a well- trained practitioner or holistic doctor has been known to completely cure allergies and intolerances with time and patience, definitely worth a try!

*Picture thanks to http://www.therootofhealth.com

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