Food allergy and intolerance
This section covers allergy and intolerance, ingested (food), inhaled and contact. Please click on the aspect of the conditions that interests you in the left hand navigation bar.
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In modern medical parlance, however, allergy has come to be more narrowly defined: a specific response by the immune system to a substance (inhaled, touched or eaten) which it mistakenly identifies as harmful.
Contact with this substance triggers the release of IgE antibodies which attach to 'mast' cells and, in turn, precipitate a release of histamine, the chemical which causes a contraction of the muscles around the air passages (an attack of breathlessness or asthma), local swelling and skin irritation, and, if the attack is serious enough, a drop in blood pressure.
Research is ongoing to find a way of preventing the immune system making these mis-identifications but until a breakthrough is achieved, the only treatment for allergy is avoidance of the allergen combined with the use of adrenaline (epinephrine) to countract the release of histamine in more serious attacks. See the articles under anaphylaxis.
Intolerance and sensitivity
Many people certainly do suffer adverse reactions to substances, particularly foods, which have not sparked an immune system response. These responses are normally classed as intolerances or sensitivities and have a very wide range of causes, symptoms and degrees of severity. However, they nearly always manifest as part of (a result or symptom of) some other medical condition or illness.
Some conditions, such as coeliac disease or phenylketonuria are caused by specific foods or food components.
More frequently specific foods may be poorly tolerated because of some underlying condition. Thus IBS sufferers, find that specific foods trigger reactions; for sufferers from Crohn's specific foods irritate their condition; migraine sufferers may find that specific foods trigger attacks; some mental health conditions such as depression can be made better/worse by certain foods etc
The amount of the food needed to cause a reaction and the length of time it takes to do so will vary hugely. Moreover, in many cases, as the underlying health condition improves, so does the person's ability to tolerate a food which had previously upset them.
The articles in this section cover both allergies and intolerances. You wil also find allergy related articles in almost every other section.
From a subscriber to the original Foods Matter magazine:
I just wanted to say that in the early days when my daughter came down with some sort of strange viral illness that appeared to result in multiple food intolerance and the doctors implied that perhaps she was faking it, (Is she being bullied at school?), in the days when "intolerance" was a made up word used by cranks - you, and your publication, represented a liferaft in an otherwise hostile storm. We clung to any piece of information, trying to work out what to do and what not to do, trying to work out what was good advice and what was not, continually getting it wrong and trying again. Without your help, it would have taken so much longer to get back on track. Indeed it was so good to find someone who believed we were telling the truth!
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