Food Allergy - Understanding The Growing EpidemicDid you know that Food Allergy Awareness Week is in May? And how many people do you now know that have some form of food allergies or dietary requirements? We are all too familiar with the growing incidence of food allergies within the community. In fact Australia has one of the highest incidence rates of this in the world. Now 1 in 10 infants and 2 in every 100 adults in this country are affected.
A lot of media attention concentrates on the incidence of severe food allergies which result in full blown anaphylaxis, requiring immediate medical attention (and could be life threatening if not treated). However, there are a huge number of other food allergy cases out there within the community which are less severe in their expression yet can still have a profound effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.
Basically, a food allergy is the body’s overreaction of the immune system to a protein compound within the food. The immune system has started to respond to a harmless substance as if it were a toxin, setting off an inflammatory process within the body. Common culprits are: tree nuts, peanuts, milk, egg, shellfish, soy, sesame and fish.
The symptoms of food allergy commonly are:
• Itching, burning and swelling around the mouth
• Runny nose
• Skin rash
• Hives ( skin becomes red and raised)
• Diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
• Breathing difficulties, including wheezing and asthma
• Vomiting, nausea
• Headaches and fatigue
If you suspect that food allergies are having an effect on your health, a naturopath can work with you to identify the offending foods and why your body’s immune system is reacting in this way.
IgG (RAST) is a functional test which can be performed which measures IgG antibodies for specific antigens. It is very sensitive and useful for the identification of food intolerances. Food panels of up to 90 common foods are often tested. Basically, it measures how your immune system is reacting to certain foods.
If there is only one offending food that is identified, it is best to avoid it for a period of time and then go through a test procedure of gradual reintroduction to gauge tolerance of the foods as they are reintroduced. (Please note that this procedure may be unsafe if the allergy reaction to certain foods is severe and this should only be done under strict medical conditions.)
The majority of adverse reactions to food are usually food intolerances or food sensitivities. It is also possible for a person to have a food intolerance where they are reacting to certain foods but it is not triggering the specific immune response of a food allergy. A food intolerance is a ‘chemical’ reaction which can occur after ingesting certain foods. A food sensitivity can occur because a person lacks digestive enzymes, such as lactase for the digestion of lactose in milk. It is not uncommon for people to develop sensitivities to certain preservatives and additives in foods such as MSG, sulphites and gluten.
Food intolerances can have a significant impact on your health because the symptoms can be similar to moderate allergy reactions but they do not cause severe anaphylaxis. Food intolerances have been associated with contributing to conditions such as migraine, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue.
Take irritable bowel for example. Often people suffering this condition will observe that eating certain foods will bring on their symptoms. Many patients find that the avoidance of certain short chain carbohydrates such as lactose and fructose will help to improve their condition and reduce some of the symptoms. A naturopath can help people like this explaining a low FODMAPS diet which takes this into consideration.
Food Allergies can be inherited. Children who have one parent with allergic history have a 20-30% higher chance of developing allergy. This increases again to a 40-60% chance if both parents have an allergic history.
Research has found that the best dietary allergy prevention is breast feeding for a minimum of 4-6 months to protect against the development of allergies in early childhood. Starting a child early on solids can increase the risk of developing allergies, so it is recommended to delay the introduction of solid foods and cow’s milk until a minimum of 6 months of age.
Research has also shown that certain probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG (LGG) when taken by the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding can decrease the risk of their child developing allergies.
It may reduce the incidence of atopic dermatitis (eczema) in infants at high risk for its development. It has been shown to reduce the severity of symptoms in children who have development eczema and food allergy in childhood.
Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG (LGG) has shown to be effective in rebalancing the immune response in allergy.
Food Allergies and intolerances can impact significantly on a person’s health and wellbeing. There can be many factors which contribute to them developing such as genetics, compromised digestive function, imbalances in gut microflora and altered immune function. These are all areas where a naturopath can help to support your body and bring it back to better health.
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