The complex way food affects our everyday lives is an emerging area of understanding, and diagnosing the cause of symptoms which seem to be ‘unexplained’ is often difficult.
Although not life threatening, food intolerance should never be underestimated as its impact on sufferers can be significant, sometimes affecting their ability to live normal healthy lives. The incidence of food intolerance is extremely wide and it is estimated that 45% of the population could be affected. Many people with food intolerance experience more than one symptom. Symptoms can often be vague and the root cause of the problem, food, is not always correctly diagnosed. Sufferers often complain of seeming to be in a ‘fog’, feeling bloated and being tired all the time.
Essentially food intolerance is your body’s abnormal reaction to certain foods which can manifest itself in a number of ways. Some people will have one symptom such as a severe headache whilst others will be unfortunate to experience irritable bowel syndrome, migraine and skin or respiratory conditions. Realising that your food is a catalyst for particular symptoms is not easy when, unlike the immediate reactive symptoms of food allergy, food intolerance symptoms often appear hours or even days later. In fact many food intolerance sufferers have commented post diagnosis and after having removed their problem foods that they realise they had been experiencing minor symptoms as a result of intolerance for their entire lives.
Food allergy is not the same as food intolerance.
A common confusion generally exists whenever the words food allergy or food intolerance enter a sentence.
A classical food allergy (such as peanut or shellfish allergy) is usually characterised by an immediate and often severe reaction of the immune system to exposure to a specific food.
The symptoms of food allergy include sneezing, rashes, skin irritation, swelling, runny nose, fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting. Normally symptoms occur within a few minutes of eating or coming in to contact with the offending food, although they can be delayed by up to two hours.
Food allergy is quite rare with only about 2.5% of the population being diagnosed with the condition. The most common instances of food allergy are to peanuts, tree nuts (almonds and brazils), eggs, milk, fish and shellfish.
When exposed to the source of food allergy the body makes specific antibodies (IgE) to ‘fight off’ the allergens found in these foods and when the food is next eaten it triggers an immune system response which results in the release of histamine and other naturally occurring chemicals in the body. Allergic reactions to food can vary considerably in their severity and some can be fatal.
Food intolerance and food allergy in brief