Understanding food intolerance, with Dr Hilary Jones
Food intolerance is a hidden epidemic affecting up to 45% of the population , and has been linked with a huge range of symptoms from fatigue, headaches, migraine and skin problems, to bloating, stomach pain, depression, nausea, diarrhoea, IBS, joint pains, respiratory symptoms and eczema. Doctors rarely explore the link between food intolerance and chronic conditions such as these with their patients, yet there is now clear evidence that relief (total or partial) can be achieved by a change in diet. Tests for allergies are sometimes carried out, but food intolerance, which is less easy to diagnose, is frequently overlooked.
Let’s start by separating out “food allergy” from the mix; food allergy is an adverse immune reaction to a specific food. The body makes specific antibodies (IgE) to “fight off” the allergens found in these foods, when the food is next eaten, or sometimes is in contact with the skin, it triggers an immune system response, which results in the release of histamine and other naturally occurring chemicals in the body. Symptoms caused by food allergy can range from rashes, swelling, diarrhoea and vomiting. In the most severe cases symptoms such as swelling of the lips, tongue or face, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness can occur; anaphylaxis which is potentially life threatening. Normally symptoms arise within a few minutes of eating or coming in to contact with the offending food, although they may be delayed by up to a couple of hours. Although true food allergy can be hugely significant for those who suffer it is actually quite rare with approximately 2.5% of the population diagnosed.
Food intolerance is associated with many different chronic symptoms including headaches, intestinal and skin symptoms. You will know if you suffer from a full-blown allergy to a food, strong immediate reactions to foods such as nuts and shellfish are typical of classical allergy reactions. However, other effects of food sensitivity are more subtle and less well understood. Food intolerance is, significantly, a delayed response to foodstuffs, and so symptoms may take as long as 3 days to appear after eating a trigger food. Once diagnosed and given a management plan people often realise that they have been having low grade symptoms most of their lives resulting in a feeling of general ‘unwellness’. Often these symptoms are not enough to make them seek medical help but are enough to stop them living life to its full.
Currently the best accepted method for confirming food sensitivities is by elimination diet. This involves eating a restricted diet for several weeks. If there is no improvement during this time, it is assumed that the food type that has been restricted is not causing the symptoms, and the process is repeated with another food type. This method is very time consuming, and because it is impossible to test all the different combinations of food types that may be causing the problems, it is a very ineffective process. Every individual person is unique with a different internal make-up, even to others with similar conditions.
One approach available is a blood test that measures food-specific IgG antibodies. Antibodies are substances produced naturally by the body to identify and neutralise foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses. Antibodies to foods are found in the body when the immune system has identified a particular food type as being foreign. Antibodies are also known as Immunoglobulins (abbreviated Ig) and one type of antibody is the IgG antibody. Measurement of IgG antibodies to foods in blood shows that that the body is ‘fighting’ that particular food. It has been shown that removal of foods from the diet that the body is reacting to in this way can reduce ill health symptoms.
To help identify undiagnosed food intolerances that could be responsible for your health problems, help is at hand from YorkTest Laboratories, Europe’s leading provider of food and drink intolerance testing with over 30 years experience. The YorkTest food and drink intolerance test, Food&DrinkScan, can uncover potential food and drink triggers, allowing people to simply modify their diets with life changing health benefits.