We often hear of food allergies and intolerances in the media, but the difference between the two maladies can be confusing. Simply put a food allergy is the body's immune response to a substance and food intolerance occurs when the body has difficulty digesting certain substances in food.
A food allergy is an immune response that may affect multiple organs. Food intolerance is less serious and response is restricted to the G.I. tract. Food intolerance symptoms include diarrhoea, bloating and stomach cramps and usually occur within a few hours of eating the offending substance. However, there is no allergic reaction and the immune system is not involved.
Even a tiny amount of food can cause an allergic reaction or food intolerance to rear it's head. While an intolerance is never life threatening, an allergy can be because an allergic reaction can cause difficulty breathing. Other allergic symptoms may include eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, mucous or blood in stools, redness around the anus, tiredness and poor growth in children. An allergy and some intolerances can be found by doing routine blood tests. Once potential foods that could be an issue are identified, these should be eliminated from the diet and if symptoms improve then food intolerance is a possibility. Food allergens include nuts, seeds, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, wheat products and some fruits such as citrus and kiwi amongst others.
Some foods are more prone to cause adverse reactions than others; for instance gluten and dairy are common intolerance and allergy culprits and can cause health issues.
Gluten is a protein which is the main component of wheat, spelt, rye and barley. As the body breaks this component down, the immune system perceives it as a toxin attack and possible symptoms experienced include bloating, gas, anaemia, fatigue, irritability, thyroid problems, migraine, joint pain, weigh gain, infertility and depression. People with mild gluten intolerance can simply cut back on gluten rich foods. The more serious form of gluten intolerance called coeliac disease may eventually cause serious damage to the lining of the small intestine which prevents it from absorbing nutrients from food. This hereditary and incurable disease of the autom-immune system will require cutting out all gluten from the diet for life.
A blood test and gastro-intestinal endoscopy can definitely determine how gluten intolerant you are. A common side-effect of cutting out this controversial protein is significant weight loss and a general feeling of wellbeing. If you are opting for a diet that cuts down on - or completely cuts out gluten there are many gluten free products to be found these days.
According to recent research, more people suffer from lactose intolerance that gluten intolerance. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, the predominant natural milk sugar. This is due to a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down milk sugar for absorption into the bloodstream.
Insufficient lactase to digest the amount of lactose consumed can lead to nausea, cramps, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. The serverity of symptoms is dependent on the amount of lactose a person can tolerate, and a reducion or complete elimination of lactose from the diet (depending on your level of intolerance), will significantly ease symptoms. If you suffer from lactose intolerance or simply want to explore a diet with less dairy be sure to visit your nearest health store who should stock a range of dairy free and lactose reduced products.
Another dietary intolerance is the consumption of sucrose and other refined carbohydrates. Experts believe that excessive processed sugar consumption is connected to the rapidly increasing rates of diabetes, obesity and other health problems. More disturbing are recent studies which indicate that huge numbers of the global population are actually addicted to sugar. In fact, experts believe that the fructose molecule in sugar fools our brains into thinking that we are not full, leading to overeating. Moreover fructose cannot be converted into energy by the mitochondria in our cells and converts to fat instead. This in turn contributes to insulin resistance, leading to chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases.
While fruit contains small amounts of fructose, processed sources of sweetness like corn syrup, agave, maple syrup, and honey contain a far higher percentage of fructose than fruit. Food manufactures add excessive fructose corn syrup and other sweetners to a wide array of foods, which adds to this sugar addiction in countries across the world. Thus doctors, scientiest and nutritional experts are starting to endorse the idea that all processed sugar be completely eliminated from the diet.
What should you do?
If you display symtpoms which you suspect could be caused by a food intolerance or allergy then seek guidance from a doctor and nutritionists who will be able to help you correctly identify and eliminate problematic foods or drinks. Your medical and nutritional experts will perform the necessary tests and recommend an appropriate elimination diet to pinpoint problem areas. Keeping a diet diary may also prove helpful in noting reactions to foods eaten and a personally tailored and monitored diet will help you to take control of any dietary problem areas. By discovering more about the effects of food on your body, and taking the necessary steps to prevent future dietary reactions, you can take control of how you nourish yourseelf, and ensure that you feel healthy and vital every day day of your life.