Food Allergies and Anaphylaxis- the science bit

If you *don’t* have an allergic child, or an allergy yourself, you may not know why allergies can be life threatening, or why it is not being “over-protective” to ensure your child has their epi pen with them at all times. This post, from the brilliant medic The Allergist Mom not only explains it in simple, but medically correct terms, she also draws pictures. It is great. Read it. That is all.


Are allergies linked to GM foods?

I came across this link to a TED talk by Robyn O’Brien on the link between GM Foods and allergies. What do you think? Certainly answers the questions why children didn’t used to have so many allergies and why less developed countries don’t seem to suffer…


Allergy v Intolerance

In the first of what we hope will be a regular series of expert articles, our nutritional therapist Wendy King looks at the difference between allergies and intolerances.

What is an allergy?

An allergy occurs when the body alters its normal immune response in some way, due to the presence of an allergen – a substance(s) that trigger a response by the immune system. This is normally due to an immune deficiency or imbalance in some way, or genetic disposition. Food and environmental allergies have been implicated in a wide range of medical conditions affecting virtually every part of the body. Many people are confused as to whether they have an allergy or intolerance read on to find out more about the differences and how Nutritional Therapy may help.

The word allergy is commonly used when any adverse reaction to food, medication, or other substances happens.

However, allergy only truly applies when the immune system releases histamine in response to a normally harmful substance, known as the allergen or foreign invaders.

Our immune system is constantly on guard and normally does a fab job in identify foreign invaders; bacteria, viruses, toxic substances and goes about its job destroying them. Sometimes it can be too good and reacts to allergens that are not harmful to the body.

This often happens within a few minutes and common signs are sneezing, vomiting, headaches, watering eyes, rashes, coughing and in severe cases an anaphylactic shock.

Some reactions that affect the digestive system such as sickness, nausea and diarrhoea, may be delayed for hours or even days.

Food allergy affects an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 5, and about 3 to 4 percent of adults.

For some, severe allergies may mean they have to avoid that food for life. Some milder allergies respond well to nutritional therapy programmes to strengthen or balance the immune system and to support the other body systems thought to be involved such as the digestive tract, where 70% of your immune cells are found!

It’s easy to confuse a food allergy with a much more common reaction known as food intolerance.

Food intolerance or sensitivity

Intolerance/Sensitivities are a response to specific foods. It doesn’t refer to people with an allergic reaction to foods as the immune system is not involved at all.

It occurs when a person lacks the correct enzymes to digest the food, such as lactose intolerance, which is a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. People who are lactose intolerant cannot digest lactose.

The lactose passes into the large intestine undigested and the bacteria break it down, releasing gas, which can cause the feelings of bloating, pain, gas, and diarrhea. This is not an allergy as no immune cells are involved.

In some cases protein fragments from undigested foods rupture the lining of the intestine allowing foreign particles into the bloodstream; this then can lead to other reactions involving the immune system such as eczema.

There are many symptoms of food intolerance, including irritable bowel, colitis; asthma; eczema; psoriasis; pain; mood; headaches; arthritis; osteoporosis; fertility issues and reduced immune function.

Food intolerance is easily fixed with a changed diet – first we look to remove the offending food (s) and introduce a diet/supplement programme that supports the body’s systems in being more resistant to the intolerant foods. Normally after a 3 month programme foods can be introduced slowly to monitor how the body responds.

By Wendy King – Inner Balance Health

What if something bad happens? Win with MedicAlert

As you know, small boy has multiple allergies, with differing levels of reaction if he accidentally ingests something he shouldn’t. His most severe allergy, and the one to which he has instant and scary reactions is his peanut allergy, and because of this, he has to carry an epi-pen in case of anaphylaxis.

Small boy is only 5, so doesn’t really go anywhere without me or his Dad, except school, who have his picture and allergy information plastered in several places around the school. But what about if he was going somewhere without me? He is very good with his allergies and can tell people about them all, but what if he couldn’t speak, passed out or was choking?

Founded in 1956, with more than 50 years experience, The MedicAlert Foundation is the only registered charity that provides a life-saving identification system for people with hidden medical conditions and allergies.

As a MedicAlert Member, you wear a bracelet or necklet (known as an Emblem) engraved with a personal identification number, main medical condition(s) and an emergency telephone number. Each tailor made Emblem bears the internationally recognised symbol of the medical profession.

In an emergency, medical personnel have immediate access to vital information on the back of the MedicAlert disc. By phoning the emergency number, they can also gain further medical and personal information such as your name and address, doctor’s details, current drug therapy and next of kin details. A translation service is also available in more than 100 languages.

Currently supporting more than 300,000 members, MedicAlert Members include those with allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, cardiac conditions and a host of less common conditions.

Membership to the service – including a tailor-made Emblem starts at £19.95 plus the first year’s membership at £25- you can find out more and join by calling Freephone 0800 581 420 or visiting


Exclusive Competition!

The lovely people at MedicAlert would like to offer Food Allergy Kitchen readers the chance to win an Annual Subscription to MedicAlert plus a stainless steel or wooden beaded emblem- a fantastic prize worth a whopping £44.95.

To enter, all you need to do is answer the following question and email your answer (please type MedicAlert in the subject line) to by 12pm Friday 4th February 2011 and a winner will be chosen at random from the correct entries received.

In which year was MedicAlert founded?

Does breastfeeding increase the risk of food allergies?

Last Thursday (13 January 2011) the British Medical Journal published a report byMary Fewtrell and colleagues into whether exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, which is the current WHO and UK Department of Health recommendation, could actually be bad for babies and, of particular interest to us here at Food Allergy Kitchen, that such a practice could actually increase the risk of developing food allergies.

The full report is available on the British Medical Journal (BMJ) website but I have reproduced the section that relates specifically to allergies below. In brief, the researchers were not disputing the proven benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child, rather they were questioning whether 6 months was too late a time to start weaning.

The conclusions of this research were that leaving weaning until 6 months may actually increase incidence of food allergies, particularly those associated with wheat and gluten. The research also pointed out that allergies are rising despite advice to avoid certain allergenic foods, and in countries where peanuts (for example) are generally eaten at younger ages, the incidence of allergy is actually lower. Note that the research actually concluded that weaning before 4 months is also associated with later digestive problems, so in summary they are recommending a return to the practice of weaning between 4 and 6 months, which as anyone who had a baby before 2003 will know, was the advice mother used to be given.

From my own perspective, my small allergy-ridden boy was breastfed for 7 months, but started weaning  at about 5- 5 and a half  months, so as a test case he is decidedly inconclusive. As with everything else, as a mother you need to take everything and all the advice into account and make your own mind up. Easier said than done, I know.

We would love to hear your comments on the BMJ report and whether you agree or disagree with the results.


Allergy and coeliac disease

Kramer and Kakuma’s original review did not find a link between exclusive breast feeding duration and allergic disease (box 1). Important new data are now emerging with implications for practice.

Paradoxically, many developed countries have rising rates of food allergy, despite increasing advice to restrict and delay exposure to potentially allergenic foods, including cows’ milk, egg, fish, gluten, peanut, and seeds. Moreover, countries where peanuts are commonly used as weaning foods have low incidences of peanut allergy (Israel, for example 23). These observations have prompted further work on immune tolerance to foods.

The development of immune tolerance to an antigen may require repeated exposure, perhaps during a critical early window, and perhaps modulated by other dietary factors including breast feeding. A 2008 review24 found an increased risk of allergy if solids were introduced before three to four months. After four months, the evidence was weak, but suggested an increased risk with delayed introduction of certain allergens. For example, the incidence of early onset coeliac disease increased in Sweden following advice to delay introduction of gluten until age six months, and it fell to previous levels after the recommendation reverted to four months. Subsequent analyses suggest that gluten should ideally be introduced in small quantities alongside continued breast feeding.25 A more recent study in infants at risk (with a first degree relative with type 1 diabetes or carriage of certain HLA types), showed that introduction of gluten before three months and after six months was associated with increased risk of biopsy proved coeliac disease26 and islet cell autoantibodies27. This finding suggests that gluten may best be introduced during a critical window of three to six months. In the same cohort, introduction of wheat after six months predicted increased risk of wheat allergy at age four years.28 Two UK randomised trials are now investigating early introduction of allergenic foods: the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study ( and the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) trial (

Extract courtesy of the British Medical Journal website Reference:  BMJ 2010;341:c5955

Don’t cry over spilt milk… unless its Goat’s Milk…

Small boy is allergic to cow’s dairy, but he is also allergic to soya, which would be most people’s first thought for an alternative. Before we resorted to rice milk (which looks like its just that cloudy water you get when you rinse rice), we tried Goat’s milk first- and we are glad we did. He loves the creamy milk, it causes him no allergic problems, and we can get milk, cheese and yogurt from normal supermarkets and even chocolate (see Billy Goat Stuff).

We are already converts to goat’s milk for small boy, but I was pleased to read the following from natural health practitioner Philip Weeks, extolling the virtues of choosing goat’s milk over cow’s milk, even if you have no medical need…

Many people are intolerant to cows milk which can cause all kinds of health complaints such as;

  • Headaches, migraines
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Joint pains
  • Overproduction of mucous
  • Skin problems, such as Acne and especially Eczema
  • Stomach pains, especially in infants

I have seen numerous patients’ health improve when cutting out cow dairy. However it can be initially a little challenging to think of alternatives. There are many substitutes, such as rice milk, oat milk, soya milk and even soya cheese. Although many people have yet to discover the health benefits of goats milk.

Many traditional cultures rely on goats milk to provide important sustenance and when looking at its nutritional benefits its easy to see why.

  • Goats milk is highly digestible, meaning that you will absorb more of the nutrients
  • Not mucous producing in the same way cow milk is Has a high % of calcium, 13% more than cows
  • Very rich in niacin which is important for good circulation and mental health
  • High in Selenium, a powerful antioxidant and anti cancer nutrient

So what are you waiting for…

Philip Weeks is an expert on natural medicine, a master herbalist and traditional acupuncturist. Now, aged only 31, Philip has a new baby boy, born in May this year.  He has an interest in natural health approaches for children, and in natural birth approaches.  He saw first hand how natural approaches could encourage not only a better pregnancy and birth but also a health baby.

Blood tests may not be reliable in diagnosing allergies

A US study  has found that, particularly in children who also suffer from eczema, the normal IgE blood tests that are performed to test for sensitivity may be misleading and may show a reaction where the food can actually be tolerated.

Certainly this seems to be the case with our own situation, and our new specialist tells us that allergy diagnoses should only be made with all the history and facts, not relying just on a blood test.