Allergy or intolerance?

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Do you turn up to dinner with friends these days only to groan silently to yourself when one person tells the waiter they can’t eat certain foods?

Well that groan may be about to turn into a brand new way to see what an allergic or intolerant person experiences.

Allergy is a reaction of the immune system to protein components of a food. Common allergens are casein from dairy products, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish and they can lead to symptoms that are severe or mild, depending on how sensitive the person is and also how much they’ve eaten.

At the severe end of the spectrum is anaphylaxis, where a person has difficulty breathing due to swelling of the throat or severe asthma. An injection of adrenalin is required to assist someone in anaphylaxis and most people who experience this carry an Epipen (adrenalin injection).

Less severe but still serious symptoms include a burning sensation in the mouth on contact, with redness appearing around the mouth, and if the food is swallowed, there is usually an immediate feeling of nausea followed by vomiting and diarrhoea.

Milder symptoms of allergy may not even be obvious. People might have a small patch of eczema that never really goes away or they get hives occasionally. For those who are super-sensitive, even the tiniest amount of the culprit food can lead to a reaction. Feeling a bit more compassion for your friend at dinner?

Food intolerance, by definition, doesn’t involve an immune reaction but rather is triggered by chemicals in foods, some naturally present such as phenols and amines and some that are added such as sulfites (preservatives numbered in the 220s) and propionate (282). They irritate nerve endings in various parts of the body, from the head to gut and almost anywhere in between.

Symptoms can include headaches, sinus trouble, mouth ulcers, and bowel irritation, while some people just feel off their game frequently and feel flat in their mood or are easily irritated.

A client recently had been so irritated by the potholes in the roads, as trivial as that sounds, yet when she avoided specific food chemicals, in her case phenols, she stopped noticing the bumps. Imagine that. Children’s behaviour can be enormously affected by these chemicals too.

You can have a blood test done to assess allergy but the only way to effectively test if you have a food intolerance is through an elimination trial. This is best done supervised by a health professional with experience in this area.

Your body doesn’t have a voice but it will give you symptoms to let you know whether it’s happy or not so be sure to get an answer to what your body is whispering or shouting at you… waiters will always be kind.

Dr Libby Weaver (Ph.D) is one of Australasia’s leading nutrition specialists and weight loss experts. She is the author of three books including Accidentally Overweight: How to Solve Your Weight Loss Puzzle and Rushing Women's Syndrome.

Visit Dr Libby Weaver's website or follow her on twitter @DrLibbyLive

RELATED links If you're allergic to gluten or simply like a low-carb alternative to regular pizza bases, try this gluten-free cauliflower pizza base instead.