Laura Thompson is a local Nutritional Therapist, Acupuncturist and creator of the Healthy Gut Plan, offering advice on a range of health issues
I have been in the health business for nearly 25 years and in that time I have seen so many people suffering from allergies and food intolerances. So what is the difference and how can you tell which it is you are suffering from?
First of all, allergies are much less common than you might think. They tend to be easy to recognise as they usually cause a relatively quick immune response, generally within an hour and are quite severe.
People with allergies generally don’t need someone like me to identify it. If you have an allergy you will nearly always have the same reaction every time you come in contact with the allergen and there is generally no cure, only avoidance and antihistamines.
Many people with allergies will have to take antihistamines or carry an adrenaline pen with them all the time. Anaphylactic shock is very dangerous and life threatening.
However, intolerances are much more common and generally harder to diagnose as the reactions are not always the same.
Food intolerances tend to be less severe and have an underlying effect on the body which many people fail to recognise.
The reaction is not always the same; you might eat a certain food and have a reaction to it but eat it a few days later and be absolutely fine.
Intolerances are usually caused by digestive problems. We know that 80% of our immune system is in our gut so it is of course reasonable to assume that this is a major factor.
Our guts are packed with many strains of bacteria, often referred to as microbiome. In fact, we have more strains of bacteria in our guts than we have cells in our bodies.
When we are in our mother’s womb, our guts are completely sterile and only when we make our journey through the birth canal do we come into contact with bacteria for the first time.
A natural birth is generally the best for a healthy gut. It is thought that babies who are born by caesarean section are more likely to experience immune problems such as allergies than those born naturally.
Of course, not every mother has the opportunity to have a natural delivery and in some cases many gynaecologists will take swabs from the mothers vagina and introduce them to the baby so that it mimics a normal delivery.
The next introduction is breast feeding; there are strains of friendly bacteria in the mother’s breast milk that help to boost the baby’s immunity.
Another factor that is thought to give rise to allergies and intolerances is our obsession with sterile environments. We have become so sterile that we no longer have the same resistance to bugs that our ancestors had. Children no longer play in the dirt, our houses are cleaned with chemicals and we use hand sanitisers at every opportunity.
I am not suggesting that we should live in dirty houses, but do we really need all the bleaches which are damaging nature as well as us? Years ago people used natural cleansers like baking soda and vinegar - much better for the environment and less expensive.
So, when the good bacteria has made it to our guts we have to try and maintain it. The best way to do this is to have a large diversity of foods, particularly wholegrains and vegetables.
Avoidance of antibiotics unless absolutely necessary and reducing the amount of chemicals and sugars we consume is beneficial for a healthy gut and immune system.
So what are the main symptoms of a food intolerance?
*Stomach issues, such as bloating, cramps and nausea
*Anxiety - remember the gut is the second brain!
What should you do if you suspect that you have food intolerance?
You could attend someone like myself who will do a test to establish what you are reacting to or you could try keeping a food diary that will help you to identify trigger foods. With food intolerances, there are generally more than one.
The most important thing is to make sure that you are treating the cause of the intolerance rather just covering up the symptoms by taking antihistamines or steroid based creams.
In my clinic, I specialise in allergy and food intolerances and have over 25 years of experience. I have, over the years, come to realise that, when treating almost every condition in the body you have to treat the gut; it is, after all, the powerhouse and engine. This is what inspired me to develop the Healthy Gut Plan.
For further information check out my website, www.laurathompsonhealth.com