Our food plays a massive role in our overall health, it contributes to our weight, our energy, our cardiac and mental health and to a very large extent…our physical health. In clinical practice it seems the extent to which this is true, is sorely underestimated. Many chronic health conditions can be triggered and/or influenced by unidentified and untreated food intolerances. Asthma, arthritis, diabetes, depression…all have good evidence for dietary factors playing a key role.
But what is a food intolerance?
Bodily reactions to foods are common, but most relate to food intolerances rather than actual allergies. Food intolerances often cause some of the same symptoms as a food allergy, so people frequently blur the two. They are in fact different things.
A true food allergy causes an immune response that affects several organs or systems in the body, and these can range from minor skin or bowel irritations through to severe or life-threatening complications.
Allergies occur when an over-reactive immune system produces proteins (called IgE antibodies) against substances in the environment that are otherwise harmless — pollens, house dust mites, moulds, animal hair (dander), or in this case, specific food proteins. Food allergy is mainly a problem of infants, toddlers and young children but new food allergies can arise in adult life, usually with crustaceans and other more exotic foods that are not commonly eaten in childhood.
In adults, a single food such as peanut or shellfish is usually involved, but children are commonly allergic to two or three foods, sometimes more. The most common ones are peanut, egg, milk, other nuts, seafoods and / or sesame. Fortunately, many children grow out of their egg and milk allergies before they reach school age, or during the early school years, but allergies to nuts and seafoods more commonly persist. Wheat, sesame and soy can also cause allergies, but these tend to be milder and more transient.
If you have a reaction to any particular food, always see your GP to determine whether you have a food intolerance or a food allergy. They are different and the difference matters. If you are found to have a food allergy, you may be at risk of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, even if your past reactions have been quite mild. Your GP will also educate you on how to recognise the warning signs of a more severe allergic reaction and instruct you on what to do if and when one occurs. You may need to carry an EpiPen – an emergency epinephrine shot for emergency self-treatment.