There is a lot of concern about choosing the right foods, eating them in the best proportions and preparing them in certain ways - something that our private Doctors at London Doctors Clinic are very happy to advise on!
Our society's obsession with nutrition and diet means there has been lots of publicity surrounding popular diets based around excluding individual foods (gluten-free or dairy-free diets), food groups (such as meet/ animal products as in vegetarian or vegan diets) or macronutrients (such as entirely fat-free diets). This increased publicity means we're also more aware of the negative effects that some foods can have on our bodies, leading to concern about food allergies and intolerances. In this article we will look at the different types of food intolerances and food allergies, how these differ and how your doctor can help you with this.
What causes food allergies?
Food allergies are responses to food which are initiated by your immune system, which is programmed to protect your body from diseases. It recognises the things to attack based on the antigens (unique identifying structures on the surface of the virus, bacteria or parasite), to which it produces antibodies to disable the infectious organism.
This process is what is disrupted in allergy - your body mistakenly recognises a non-harmful, environmental stimulus as threatening, and establishes an unnecessary immune response. This immune response can present with the following common food allergy symptoms:
- Itchy, red rash
- Tingy, itchy mouth
- Swelling around the mouth, throat or face
- Swallowing difficulties
- Wheezing or breathing difficulties
- Anaphylaxis (severe reaction, life-threatening)
Common food allergies
Some common foods to which people exhibit food allergies include:
- Milk - especially in children
- Including gluten
- Fish - especially in adults
Many of these are often identified in childhood.
Peanuts are a very common food allergy, especially in children, that can sometimes result in severe allergic reaction
Food intolerances are not the same as food allergies, in that they are not mediated by the immune system. These can be from a different source, for example if your body lacks a certain enzyme, which does a lot of the work in the body on a very small scale. In lactose intolerance, the enzyme which digests the lactose sugar in milk and dairy products is missing and this means that lactose can’t be digested. This isn’t a food allergy, because the body is not attacking the lactose, but an intolerance. This is also normally diagnosed in childhood.
Symptoms of food intolerance
Symptoms which can be classed as food intolerances - simply being intolerant to certain foods! This is normally limited to digestive symptoms for example tummy pain or vomiting but it can be important to check that these aren’t an allergy if you are getting recurrent symptoms with the same foods.
Coeliac disease is slightly different from both food allergies and intolerances. This is where the body recognises something in gluten as foreign, producing lots of “antibodies” but these attack the body’s own cells. It mainly affects those in the small intestine, causing diarrhoea and the intestine being unable to absorb all the nutrients in the food. Overall, coeliac disease can result in poor growth in children, as well as tiredness and anaemia in adults.
Some people feel better if they don’t eat gluten, but this may or may not be coeliac disease. It’s important to learn how you feel after certain foods, and which foods might be causing any potential discomfort.
How can food allergy and intolerance be diagnosed?
If you’re concerned about any in particular, or are experiencing any digestive symptoms such as tummy pain, diarrhoea or excessive tiredness, it’s a good idea to check it out with one of our affordable private GP's. During a 15 or 30-minute consultation, the doctor may suggest keeping a food diary to track exactly what you eat, and any relevant symptoms, when they develop and for how long they last. This can be a really helpful tool, both for you to keep an eye on your own health and also for the doctor to notice any patterns and trends.
Food allergy and intolerance management
Generally, a food intolerance can be successfully managed by identifying and avoiding the foods responsible, and sometimes digestive therapies. If the doctor suspects you may have a food allergy, which is confirmed allergen testing, the doctor may also prescribe you with an Epipen if you're at risk of an anaphylactic reaction upon accidental exposure to this food, and advise you how to use it.
An epipen is for emergency treatment of allergic reaction, by injecting adrenaline directly into the body to prevent life-threatening anaphylaxis
Sometimes if you’re having very vague symptoms, or after a eating variety of foods, there may be something else going on, and the doctor can help to investigate this further by means of comprehensive blood testing. Should the GP not be able to help solve your food allergy or intolerance issues, we can provide a private referral to a specialist Allergy clinic for further testing.
So don't just bury your head in the sand with regards to any digestive symptoms you may be having - book a GP appointment today. Once a food allergy or intolerance is identified, you'll feel a whole lot better!
By Ruth Laurence-King