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Allergic or Intolerant? 2009-01-18

Posted by clype in Health.
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It is estimated that 12 million people in the UK are unaware that they have a food intolerance.   Around one third of the population is affected by an allergy and many more by food intolerances.

‘National Food Allergy and Intolerance Week’ is from 2000-01-19, and the organisers aim to highlight the importance of identifying food intolerances.

  • The difference between an allergy and an intolerance is often misunderstood.

ALLERGY
A food allergy causes a fast response by your immune system antibodies to a food which it has mistaken for something ‘foreign’.   This defence mechanism causes a rapid physical response during which inflammatory substances are released.  Side-effects range from mild to life-threatening depending on the severity of the allergic reaction.  Only a tiny trace of the culprit food is needed to spark a reaction, which can occur within a matter of seconds.

INTOLERANCE
A food intolerance is something quite different.  One of the most common is lactose intolerance, which occurs when your body cannot digest milk or dairy foods.

Lactose is a sugar compound and the inability to break it down during digestion can cause severe stomach pain and diarrhoea, but will never result in a life-threatening situation.

A small portion of the offending food may not trigger physical symptoms, but if it does then these symptoms are likely to be delayed and mainly involve the digestive system.

There’s a strong link between food intolerance and genetics.

Lactose intolerance, for example, affects around 10 / 15 per cent of northern and western Europeans compared to 70 / 90per cent of Asian, African, native Americans and Mediterranean people.

Alcohol intolerance is also common among Asian populations with around 50 per cent affected.

According to Allergy UK, the most common symptoms include bloating, migraines, eczema, tiredness and digestive complaints.

It can be difficult to diagnose a food intolerance as these symptoms can easily be attributed to other causes, which can result in the sufferer being affected for a long period of time

Cow’s milk is the cause of the most intolerance complaints, but foods such eggs, nuts, fish or shellfish, wheat, chocolate, soft fruit, cheese and yeast are other common culprits.

  • If you think you have a food allergy then you should seek help from a qualified health professional.
  • If you are concerned that you may have a food intolerance there are a number of things that you can do.
    The first is to keep a food diary and note down any physical symptoms and what you ate that day.
    Try cutting out foods which you feel to be problematic and see if your symptoms improve.
    This can be an effective solution for some people, but if you are suffering from multiple food intolerances then self-diagnosis might prove tricky.
  • There are also a number of home testing kits which can provide more accurate results.
    For example, a test kit from YorkTest Laboratories involves taking a small amount of blood using a simple finger prick collection method and posting the sample to their lab. to be analysed and tested for intolerance to 113 different foods. Kits start from 9.99 GBP and are available at www.yorktest.com

Research by YorkTest Laboratories has found that the average person spends 350 GBP on treating symptoms of an undiagnosed food intolerance before identifying the real problem.

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