- What is allergy?
An allergy is an inappropriate response by the body’s immune system to a vegetable or animal substance that is normally not harmful. Substances which cause the body to react are called allergens.
The most common allergens include pollen, animal fur, dust and foods such as strawberries, dairy products, wheat, egg and shellfish. When an allergen enters a body of an allergic person, the body produces antibodies to help defend itself which are designed to neutralize the allergen. It is the reaction between the allergen and the antibodies which then produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The main symptoms of an allergy include watery eyes, nasal congestion, wheezing, itching, headaches and skin rashes. No one knows why some people are allergic to particular substances but allergies are probably influenced by genetic, emotional, physical and environmental factors. Common diseases associated with allergies or with a malfunctioning immune system are food allergies, arthritis, eczema, asthma, diabetes, hay fever, inflammatory bowel disease, infections and hives.
- What are food allergies and food intolerance?
For centuries it has been known that consumption of certain reactive foods can have profound effects on physical and mental health. Foods are one of the most common causes of allergies, but there is often confusion as to whether you are suffering from a food allergy or food intolerance.
Food intolerance is defined as an abnormal physiological response to an ingested food or food additive which is not proven to be immunological in nature. A person with a food intolerance cannot process or digest that food correctly, often due to a lack of certain enzyme. Symptoms of food intolerance include fatigue, bloating, headache, depression and nausea. The reaction to food intolerance can be a latent one, i.e. the symptoms may only appear hours or even days after taking the concerned food.
Food allergy is defined as an immunological reaction resulting from the ingestion of a food or food additive. The symptoms of a food allergy include skin rashes, nasal congestion and in severe cases anaphylactic shock. An allergic reaction tends to be more severe and is quite rare and may occur after only a small amount of the food has been ingested and it is unrelated to any physiological effect of the food or additive.
- How can allergy be treated and what is an elimination diet?
The easiest way of treating food allergies and intolerances is to avoid the foods that are causing the problems. This can be achieved by using an elimination diet. An elimination diet has two main points. The first is called the exclusion phase in which any food which might be causing the allergy is avoided. If the symptoms do disappear, the next stage is to reintroduce foods, one at a time, to discover which ones produce the symptoms. This is known as the reintroduction phase. Foods which often cause allergic reactions and therefore should be avoided include:
- Dairy products such as milk and cheese
- Cereals such as wheat. These foods are often found as components of many processed foods.
- Gluten ( A protein found in cereals such as wheat, rye, oats and barley).
This allergy is known as coeliac disease and sufferers must avoid all foods which contain gluten.
It has also been widely documented that by avoiding certain foods that may cause allergy, the conditions of eczema, asthma and arthritis and other immune disorder-related problems may improve significantly.
- How can supplements help combat allergy ?
Taking appropriate supplements to boost the immune system is also a good way to reduce allergies / intolerances. For example, most eczema sufferers are unable to process fatty acids normally, which can lead to low levels or a deficiency of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA). GLA is found in Evening Primrose oil, Starflower oil and blackcurrant seed oil. GLA helps to control the immune system and therefore allergic responses. Fish oils are also an important source of the essential fatty acids. Vitamin A and zinc are also two other important skin nutrients. Vitamin A is critical to the proper development and maintenance of the skin and zinc aids healing and enhances immune function. Last but not least, chemicals and detergents found in many household products can irritate the skin and worsen the eczema. Sufferers should always use sensitive skin products.
- What are other treatments available ?
There are also other alternative treatment which is getting increased acceptance, for example, homeopathy, Namburdripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques (NAET) which is a drug free, non-intrusive way of treating allergies.
- How can I find out which food I am allergic to?
Food intolerance is particularly difficult to investigate because the symptoms are separated in time from consumption of the food. The symptoms often persists for decades and patients often report that multiple visits to their doctor have not resolved the problems.
It is now possible to have a food allergy test— the more reliable one is Food IgG ELISA Test (Enzyme Immunoassay method for IgG antibody detection). By taking a small blood sample, over 90 commonly encountered foods can be tested against the sample. Usually the results can be obtained in a month’s time.