Is there more to Food Allergies than meets the eye?

Carolyn Holmes

Is there more to so called food allergies?

If you believe the press you might think that we are being swamped by a rise in allergies to almost anything; foods, dust, pollen, cleaning and body care products.

Allergies are being cited as the cause for a range of symptoms from sniffles, hay fever, headaches, digestive issues, muscle and joint pain to full anaphylactic shock.

We thought that eliminating the bugs, chemicals or foods that were the so called 'cause' would solve the problems.

For example, Coeliac Disease represents the end of a long process of damage to the digestive tract caused by the body's immune response to gluten, the proteins found in grains, most notably wheat.

Remove the wheat / gluten and problem solved ? No ? Current thinking is challenging this with research around the world changing our view.

So what is really happening and why are we appearing to react so badly to our environment? Let's take gluten as an example;

In genetically susceptible individuals gluten is recognised by the body as an invader (an antigen) which triggers immune cells destroying the integrity of the intestinal wall in the process.

But, of the 30% of the population that carry the genes related to Coeliac, less than 1% develop the disease. Genetic predisposition is then not the only factor.

So what else is causing this loss of tolerance to gluten ?

Some scientist cite a myriad of environmental factors;  changes in cereal production and processing,  genetically altered grains, or other environmental challenges such as childhood infections, breastfeeding and weaning timing, disruption to gut flora, antibiotics and other medication, stress, nutrient imbalances or deficiencies, smoking and other chemicals in household products, body products and in foods.

This environmental onslaught, in susceptible individuals, can affect the cells of the gut lining, increasing gut permeability, known as 'leaky gut'. This can allow more immunologically active molecules to pass through the gut barrier triggering immune reactions, not only in the gut, but also in other tissues such as joints, skin, and even the brain.

leaky gut

Emerging nutritional risk factors include:

  • Dietary imbalances with high refined carbohydrates, poor fats and low nutrient density.
  • Iron supplements in pregnancy; excessive iron intake is known to affect immune function and impact gut flora.
  • Early vitamin D deficiency; can affect immune tolerance, impair the integrity of the cells lining the gut and is strongly implicated in other autoimmune diseases.
  • Infections, perinatal and in the first 6 months of life. Campylobacter, the most common gut infection has been associated with Coeliac development and can reduce the integrity of the intestinal wall.
  • Enzymes used in food processing, to improve shelf life, texture and stability such as bacterial transglutaminase are believed to interact with gluten creating new molecules that trigger an immune reaction and have been associated with Coeliac


So why are we reacting so badly to our environment?

Recent studies show that our gut bacteria or 'microbiome' plays an important role in priming our immune system and maintaining tolerance to our environment.

It therefore makes sense to not only remove gluten or the offending foods or chemicals from the diet, but also to look at why there has been a reaction in the first place. Then to address repairing the gut and replenishing gut flora and nutrients to redress the balance.

Note in cases of true Coeliac Disease, gluten must be removed completely and is not tolerated. For other intolerances, it may be possible to re-introduce foods to your diet.

Make an appointment with one of our fully qualified Nutritional Therapists for a full assessment, which will take account of your history and lifestyle to establish what will work for you.

'The gut is the mother of the body'  Tend it well and it will take care of you.

Carolyn Holmes

Nutritional Therapist & Zest4life Coach,

DipION, BSc (Hons), mBANT,CNHC, 


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Ngoc P. Ly et al. Gut Microbiota, Probiotics, and Vitamin D: Interrelated Exposures Influencing Allergy, Asthma, and Obesity? J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 May ; 127(5): 1087–1094.

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