Allergy, Digestion | March 24, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Do you suffer from any of the following conditions: digestive problems, headaches, sinus trouble, mouth ulcers, low energy, feeling run-down, mood swings, itchy skin, joint aches, flu-like aches and pains?
Health problems such as these may be reactions to a specific food or foods eaten frequently, but they are often overlooked and poorly understood by doctors. You may not even realise you have food sensitivities until the trigger foods are removed from your diet.
What is Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivity, also called food intolerance, is an adverse reaction triggered by substances in foods.
Food sensitivities are not food allergies!
So what is the difference?
Food allergy is an immune system reaction to food that can sometimes be life threatening, as in the case of anaphylaxis. Its onset is usually rapid and duration is brief, a matter of hours. Food sensitivity, on the other hand, does not involve the immune system, and does not cause severe allergic reactions. Reactions are usually delayed, and may occur several hours to up to 3 days after eating the offending food.
Even a small amount of the food can trigger an allergy with people with food allergies, while people with food intolerance may not have symptoms unless they eat a large portion of the food or eat the food frequently.
Common Food Sensitivities
- Lactose intolerance. An inability to break down lactose (milk sugar), which is found in milk and other dairy products, due to a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme that is produced in the lining of the gut. Lactose intolerance is sometimes confused with milk allergy, which is an immune reaction to the protein in milk, not the sugar. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, stomach pain and/or cramps, diarrhoea, flatulence, and nausea. It is the most common food intolerance.
- Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is the protein component of the grains wheat, rye and barley. Some people do not have coeliac disease, but may develop gastrointestinal symptoms similar to those in coeliac disease following the ingestion of gluten.
Different from coeliac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity does not lead to small intestinal damage, symptoms are generally less severe, and improve with the elimination or reduction of gluten from the diet.
- Fructose Intolerance. Fructose is the ‘fruit sugar’, found in fruit, maple syrup and honey, and often added to foods as a sweetener. In some individuals, the absorption process of fructose is incomplete, resulting in excess fructose in the gut and digestive symptoms such as flatulence, bloating and IBS-like symptoms.
- Histamine intolerance. Histamine is a biogenic amine, meaning it belongs to a class of compounds that are derived from amino acids, the building blocks of proteins.
Histamine is naturally present in many foods, including aged cheese, fermented soy products, sauerkraut, wine, vinegar, and processed meat.
Some people experience a reaction following ingestion of histamine-rich food, which is thought to be due to reduced activity (or lack) of the enzyme diamine oxidase that has the role of breaking down ingested histamine.
Typical symptoms of histamine intolerance include hives, swelling, sneezing, runny or blocked nose, headache, rashes, itching, flushing, vomiting or abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and irregular heartbeat.
- Tyramine sensitivity. Like histamine, tyramine is a biogenic amine. Sensitivity occurs in people with a relative deficiency of monoamine oxidase, the enzyme that breaks down tyramine. Certain medications are known to suppress the activity of monoamine oxidase, causing excessive undigested tyramine, and resulting in symptoms such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and severe headache, as well as allergy-like symptoms including itchiness, flushing, sweating and chills, and hives. Tyramine can be found in aged cheese, especially camembert and cheddar, processed meat, foods containing yeast extract (such as vegemite), smoked or pickled fish, sauerkraut, broad beans, avocados, bananas, eggplant, raspberries, plums, tomato, any overripe fruit and vegetable, beer, wine (especially red), and vinegar.
- Salicylates. Salicylates are natural aspirin-like plant chemicals present in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices, jams, honey, yeast extracts, tea and coffee, juices, beer and wines. They are also present in flavourings, perfumes, scented toiletries, eucalyptus oils, and some medications. Salicylates can trigger hives in some people.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG, additive numbers 620 and 621). A flavour enhancer that is added to soups, sauces, Asian cooking and snack foods. Glutamates also occur naturally in such foods as Camembert cheese, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, soy sauce and mushrooms. MSG stimulates nerve endings, and in some people may cause headaches, numbness/tingling, flushing, muscle tightness, and general weakness.
- Food additives. Food additives such as preservatives, artificial colours and flavourings can cause reactions in some individuals.
For example tartrazine, used as artificial colouring, and sulphites, used as preservatives in some drinks and foods, such as beer and wine and dried fruit.
Common reactions include asthma symptoms in those with underlying asthma, hay fever, and hives. A numeric food additives list can be found here.
- Yeast Intolerance. Candida organisms is a common type of yeast present in the human gastrointestinal tract; however, when the normal balance of intestinal bacteria is disrupted, due to use of antibiotics (which kill off beneficial gut bacteria), hormonal changes, diabetes, or compromised immune system, an overgrowth of candida can occur. This overgrowth can cause symptoms such as vaginal thrush and chronic sinusitis, and some experts believe it may even promote food intolerances and food allergies. As yeast feeds on carbohydrates, individuals who suffer from yeast infections are usually advised to restrict consumption of simple sugars and alcohol in order to starve yeast of its main fuel.
Diagnosing Food Intolerances
Testing for food sensitivity is controversial because scientific evidence is still lacking.
If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms that are caused by food, you can identify culprit foods in one of the following ways:
- Food and symptom diary. Record what you eat and when you get symptoms in a food diary for about 2-3 weeks and look for patterns. A qualified nutritional therapist can help you identify culprit foods by reviewing your diet diary.
- Elimination diet. Identifying culprit foods through a food diary can be challenging, as you may be sensitive to several food groups. There is good evidence to support the use of elimination diets.
An elimination diet should always be managed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner, to be sure your diet is not nutritionally deficient, and to help you find healthy substitutions. You may be asked to eliminate all suspect foods from your diet until you are symptom-free, usually for a period of two to four weeks. You then reintroduce food one at a time, to see which foods may be triggering symptoms.
Allergy UK 2016, What is Food Intolerance?, Allergy UK, retrieved March 15, 2017
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy 2014, Food intolerance, ASCIA, retrieved March 15, 2017
Cleveland Clinic 2015, Problem Foods: Is it an Allergy or Intolerance, Cleveland Clinic. retrieved March 15, 2017
Ehrenpreis, E.D & Benjamin Z. Ehrenpreis. B.Z (2007), Lactose Intolerance: Definition, Symptoms and Treatment. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders IFFGD.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand 2015, MSG in food, FSANZ, retrieved March 15, 2017
Maintz, L., & Novak, N. (2007). Histamine and histamine intolerance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1185–96.
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Allergy Unit 2017, Food Allergies & Intolerances, RPA, retrieved March 15, 2017
Sapone, A., Lammers, K. M., Casolaro, V., et al. (2011). Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Medicine, 9, 23.
Turnbull J, L., Adams H, N., & Gorard D, A. (2015). The Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy and Food Intolerances. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 41(1), 3–25.
Yamaguchi, N., Sugita, R., Takemura, N., et al (2005). Gastrointestinal Candida colonisation promotes sensitisation against food antigens by affecting the mucosal barrier in mice. BMJ, 55(7), 9–10.