Itchy, wheezy, tight or sneezy?

Allergic and intolerance responses are becoming increasingly prevalent in today's modern world, so let's take a look at how foods can cause issues for some people.

Sometimes the body's defence systems can go haywire

When an allergic response occurs to food that is typically harmless, the immune system displays a dysfunction in programming and launches an inflammatory response and release of histamine in rapid time to something it thinks is a threat. The immune cells (antibodies produced by the body called immunoglobulin E (IgE)) then recognise the same food again and have sent word out to other immune cells to launch an even bigger attack which leads to an acute and severe allergic reaction. This can cause hives/rashes, swelling, itchy eyes, gut symptoms, asthma, sneezing, difficulty breathing, increased mucous response or even anaphylaxis.

The most recognised allergens are proteins in foods such as those found in eggs, dairy, soy, tree nuts/peanuts, fish/shellfish, meat, sesame seeds and wheat. Generally these are acute and happen every time when the body is exposed to certain foods, making it easier to pinpoint the trigger foods item, an example of this is peanut allergy.

Other times it is not so easy as the reactions may be delayed. These are known as intolerance's. These delayed reactions can happen over hours or days, from repeated exposure or even show up years later and are much more common. These intolerance reactions to substances in food generally occur from metabolism dysfunction due to over exposure or compromised gut health and immune integrity.

Intolerance's can be more challenging to identify as they can cause delayed responses.

With intolerance's there are a number of compromised systems which change the compounds of the food, the cells then do not recognise these molecules in their altered state causing the body to lose the ability to properly metabolise the substance. For example in lactose intolerance there is lactose malabsorption or an inadequacy of the enzyme (lactase) which helps break down lactose, therefore the lactose is only partially digested and causes intolerance symptoms.

Other intolerance's may include:

  • Dairy

  • Gluten

  • Salycilates

  • Amines

  • Sulfites

  • Caffeine

  • FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols)

  • Fructose

  • Artificial colours/flavours/additives

So what can we do?

Avoid trigger foods, reduce foods known to cause intolerance's and reduce inflammatory foods. *Be sure to seek nutritional guidance to avoid any possible deficiencies if removing food from the diet.

Maintaining beneficial gut bacteria, enzymes, immune system and membrane health throughout our body are critically important in decreasing allergies and improving tolerance to foods.

  • Bacteria help educate our immune system, work systemically throughout the body either up regulating or down regulating inflammation and turn food into metabolites to be used by the body. Therefore it is important to eat a variety of foods that feed beneficial bacteria (wholefoods, fibrous vegetables, fermented foods, Jerusalem artichokes) and avoid foods that increase negative pathogens (sugar, processed/refined foods, artificial sweeteners)

  • Ensuring enzymes are sufficient to help breakdown and absorb the components of food is essential to helping reduce inflammatory responses. Include enzyme rich foods (pineapple, papaya, kiwifruit, kefir, sauerkraut, Manuka honey) to the diet if no known histamine response to them.

  • Redirecting the immune systems response is essential to improving allergen reaction. As the immune system is not functioning as it should, studies involving immunotherapy are sometimes undertaken to help the immune system slowly adjust to the problematic food/allergen. (1)

  • Membranes such as skin and mucous membranes throughout our body act as a barrier to protect from exposure to inflammatory triggers, these need to be functioning optimally to reduce infiltration. Consume foods that strengthen these membranes (vitamin A, C, E rich foods, zinc rich foods, omega 3 fatty acids, quality protein, adequate water intake)

So for an intolerance, you may be able to have a small amount of a certain food yet, if you eat too much of this food, this is where you may start to see/feel symptoms where your tolerance has been exceeded.

Elimination diets followed by controlled food challenges are the gold standard for pinpointing trigger foods and tolerance levels. These are best carried out under expert guidance.

Allergic foods on the other hand are best confirmed through allergen testing and once confirmed avoided all together.


(1) Yu, W., Freeland, D. and Nadeau, K. (2016). Food allergy: immune mechanisms, diagnosis and immunotherapy. Nature Reviews Immunology, 16(12), pp.751-765.

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