Is Your Food Allergy Causing you Pain?

  • 1 Oct 2010
  • Reading time 14 mins
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Allergies are much more common than you think. In fact, almost one in every three people suffers from allergies – whether to pollen, cats, house dust, foods, drugs or chemicals.

What is an allergy?

To answer this question, you need to know a bit about your immune system. Inside your body is an army of immune cells on a 24-hour search-and-destroy mission. When they find an invader, such as a virus, they destroy it. The main way they capture their prey is by producing a ­tailor-made ‘straitjacket’ – an antibody – to fit a particular invader. This is how vaccination works – the polio vaccine exposes your body to the polio virus, not enough to make you sick, but just enough for the immune army to make polio antibodies, which are then in place to protect you in the future.

In the same way, if you’re allergic to pollen, when you breathe it in your body starts to produce antibodies to pollen. The most familiar symptoms of an allergy include hayfever, a stuffy and running nose, itchy eyes and skin, asthma, headaches, bloating, water retention and facial puffiness. These are signs that your body is trying to get rid of something it doesn’t like. Most allergic responses are inflammatory and can bring on pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and muscles.

Classic food allergies involve the production of an antibody, called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), tailored to fit the offending food. IgE-based allergies produce immediate symptoms – such as a rash when eating seafood – and are thus quite easy to detect. However, many allergies involve IgG reactions. When you have too many IgG reactions occurring in your body symptoms develop. So your allergic reactions may only occur if you eat a lot of an offending food, or a group of offending foods together. Symptoms are therefore often delayed or hidden and thus harder to detect. Allergies to food are increasingly common.

The most common offenders are dairy products and grains, particularly wheat. However, many other foods cause reactions in some people. But why do some become allergic when others don’t?

Have you got leaky gut syndrome

An obvious place to start in unravelling the true cause of allergies is the digestive tract. After all, the lining of the gut is the first point of contact between foods and the immune system. Did you know that the intestinal lining alone is estimated to contain more immune cells and produce more antibodies than any other organ in the body? Hardly surprising then, that the intestinal lining and its immune system is an absolutely critical defence against food allergens and infections.

The gut can become more leaky, allowing incompletely digested food proteins to gain entry into the bloodstream. Research shows that people with food allergies do tend to have leaky gut walls.[4] Another possible reason is that your immune army may be malnourished and hence will over-react to harmless substances. Allergies are therefore much more likely to develop in people who have a weakened or over-reactive immune system, perhaps partly due to chronic inflammation or poor digestion. The likely allergens are foods eaten frequently, especially those that are potentially irritable to the digestive system.

Figure 13 - Foods most likely to cause allergy

FoodPercent of Symptomatic Patients Affected by Food
*Corn 56
**Wheat 54
Bacon/Pork 39
Oranges 39
Milk 37
Oats 37
Rye 34
Eggs 32
Beef 32
Coffee 32
Malt 27
Cheese 24
Grapefruit 24
Tomato 22
Peanuts 20
Sugar (cane) 20

* Corn is the most common in the US ** Wheat is the most common in the UK Data from: L G Darlington, ‘Dietary Therapy for Arthritis’, Rheumatic diseases clinics of North America, vol. 17 (2), 1991, pp. 273-85

As far as arthritis is concerned, the most common suspects are grains and dairy products, followed by pork, beef and eggs.

Some people also get relief by avoiding citrus foods and the nightshade family (which includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, aubergines and tobacco).

Our Deadly Bread

Although the average person eats between 100g and 200g of wheat every day, in the form of bread, cakes, pasta and cereal, it contains a gastrointestinal irritant called gluten, and is Britain’s number one allergen. Other grains, like rye, barley and oats, also contain gluten. These also cause allergic reactions in some people, as does corn (maize). However, rice, buckwheat, millet and quinoa are unlikely to cause allergic reactions.

According to Dr Hicklin, a consultant rheumatologist, grains are the most common allergen in rheumatoid arthritis.[5] He put 22 patients onto a diet excluding likely allergy-provoking foods. No less than 20 noted improvements in their symptoms. When tested with different foods, 19 reported that specific foods made them worse, most commonly grains. According to Dr Nadya Coates, a specialist in grain allergy at the Springhill Foundation in Oxfordshire, gluten has a structure that is alien to the body’s metabolism. It sticks to anything and encapsulates smaller molecules, such as sugar, cholesterol, fats or minerals, which are then transported into the blood without being properly digested. Gluten, she believes, is the major obstacle in all digestive processes, with wheat gluten being the most toxic of all. Gluten is, unquestionably, an intestinal irritant. In highly sensitive people the lining of the small intestine, which consists of small protrusions called villi, becomes flattened. This is known as coeliac disease and leads to malabsorption, ......

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