April 3rd, 2012 by Digestive Detective
While food allergies are more dramatic in terms of your body's response (itching, swollen throat, difficulty breathing), most of us know when we’re allergic to certain foods and take measures to avoid them. Food allergies are also relatively uncommon, with only 4-6% of the population having an actual clinically diagnosed food allergy. The most common food allergens are shellfish, tree nuts, soy, fish, and eggs. Food intolerance, however, is far more common. This may go undiagnosed, and sufferers may go for years with certain conditions or reactions and simply brush it off as a way of life for them.
The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance where the individual lacks sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase that digests the lactose present in dairy products. Gluten intolerance or sensitivity is also very common. It is caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, which is a component of wheat and some other grains. According to a study published in the Annals of Medicine, the prevalence of celiac disease (a digestive condition triggered by consumption of the protein gluten found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains) more than doubled among a group of 3,511 seemingly healthy adults between 1974 and 1989.
Statistics for gluten intolerance are harder to come by as many people go undiagnosed. Signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance are more varied and vague than you may think - while digestive dysfunction is often present, it isn't always the case. Sufferers may experience brain fog/mental clarity issues, headaches, joint aches and skin rashes. These varied symptoms result from the autoimmune response that gluten can cause whereby the body launches an attack on the protein molecules of gluten & gliadin. With intolerance, the body doesn't recognize these molecules and perceives them as foreign invaders to the system; the problem is that this autoimmune trigger then extends beyond just the gluten molecules and can attack our own body tissues including those in the joints and other organs such as the thyroid (the protein molecules in gluten appear very similar in structure to thyroid tissue proteins - a phenomenon known as "molecular mimicry"). As a result of this and other increasing evidence, many practitioners and forward-thinking physicians and nutritionists encourage nutrition void of any wheat & grain-based foods.
Process of Elimination
Check with your doctor if you believe you have a food allergy and/or intolerance. Diagnostic tests can be performed to check for the presence of an allergy. In order to identify a food intolerance, try an elimination diet where you completely eliminate the suspected food source from your nutrition for 30 days and chart how your body responds. Depending on the specific intolerance or sensitivity, you may feel worse during the first few days, but increasingly feel a sense of greater energy and vitality as time goes on. Then, at the end of your elimination time-frame, you can opt to incorporate the suspected food back into your diet and note how you feel; any signs of irritation or digestive issues most likely will prove that the suspected food source is the culprit. Luckily, there are plenty of available options that provide you with a variety of choices to eat well despite food allergies/intolerance.
Check out some of our Gluten-Free recipes and others here at TheFitRX.com for more!
Gorman,C., Park, A. and Dell, K. (2004, Feb) Health: The Fires Within, Time, Vol. 163, 8
Catassi, C., Kryszak D, Bhatti, B., Sturgeon, C., Helzlsouer, K, Clipp, S., Gelfond, D., Puppa, E., Sferruzza, A. & Fasano, A. Annals of Medicine, October 2010, Vol. 42, No. 7 , Pages 530-538
Jason Bosley-Smith, CSCS, FDN is a personal trainer, lifestyle coach and certified in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition. He is the founder of www.digestivedetective.com – a comprehensive health and wellness website that provides articles, podcasts, fitness videos, webinars and customized online coaching for individuals seeking to improve their digestive health and optimize their nutritional status.