Food allergy or intolerance is a major modern day health problem affecting people of all genders, cultures and ages, and involves an abnormal response to an otherwise normal substance.
According to the Royal College of Physicians, one in ten people suffer from allergies, with food being the most common provokers of allergic symptoms.
There is no doubt that the prevalence of food intolerance and food allergies are increasing.
Let us distinguish between food intolerance and a food allergy.
With a true food allergy, a clear immune system mechanism is involved, showing a particular and specific process within the body and can be proven through laboratory tests.
It usually has a rapid onset and only a small amount of the offending food is required to elicit a severe response.
Food intolerance on the other hand produces a wide and varying range of symptoms, usually has a slower reaction time and greater quantities of the offending food substance are required to produce effects that are less severe that in the case of an allergy.
A person with food intolerance is unable to digest and process that food correctly due to a lack of certain enzymes.
Food intolerance can lead to a food allergy if particles of the undigested food manage to enter the bloodstream and cause an immune system reaction.
We can experience a food allergy/intolerance to just about any food type, but the most common ones are dairy products, shell fish, eggs, wheat, yeast, nuts, citrus fruits and food additives or preservatives.
These substances, that may be harmless to one individual whilst causing symptoms to another, are called the allergens. The food allergen enters the body through the digestive system and travels to the body tissues where antibodies are produced.
Excessive antibodies cause harm to the tissue and allergic symptoms appear.
There is not always a clear apparent link between an allergen and the organ it attacks, for example intolerance towards dairy products can affect the nose.
Because of the nature of the allergic reaction, there is no cure to date, and it is imperative to separate allergic reactions from pathological disease.
Food intolerance or allergy is often managed by means of an elimination diet, and in some cases by means of kinesiology or indicator muscle tests.
With elimination diets, the suspected possible food allergen is named and monitored through noting symptoms, including food cravings, fatigue, palpitations, weight fluctuations and diarrhoea.
Different options for elimination diets can then be considered, for example a 21 day, a 14 day or 4 to 7 day elimination process where suspected food culprits are avoided and slowly reintroduced while symptoms are being watched.
Once a food culprit has been identified, the substance should be avoided.
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