By Doreen Schwegler:
Naturopath, Haematology Scientist, Natural Fertility Specialist and Author
We get many clients presenting with a variety of “unexplained” symptoms including digestive problems like bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea; skin complaints, fatigue, headaches, concentration problems, weight gain and more. The question arises “could I be allergic to certain foods?” This is a summary of relevant literature, clinical experience and research.
This is a true, consistent reaction to a particular food or component. Examples are peanut allergy (leading to anaphylaxis, throat swelling etc) and reactions to pollens, dust or animal fur that may result in eczema, asthma or hayfever. Coeliac disease occurs when there is both a genetic predisposition and exposure to gluten, where even minute amounts of gluten present in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats cause a reaction. Reactions can include diarrhea, abdominal pain and nutrient deficiencies (e.g. iron or Vitamin D) due to reduced absorption of nutrients from the inflamed gut lining. Some coeliacs are symptom free. Testing for allergies include measuring IgE levels (the protein that is elevated in true ‘allergy’); skin prick testing, measuring IgE antibody levels to reactants like foods and pollens, and in the case of coeliac performing a small bowel biopsy (the gold standard test but quite invasive) or measuring specific antibodies (for the technically minded the latest recommendation is to test for both IgA and G transglutaminase antibodies and IgA and IgG deaminated gliadin peptides, as well as genetic testing via blood tests).
This is a bit less consistent and hazier. People can react to certain foods depending on the amounts consumed, stressors in their daily life and their nutritional status. What normally causes a reaction at home may not cause any problems when travelling or relaxing at the beach, but small amounts may cause symptoms during their working day. When I worked as a Haematology scientist at the Children’s hospital in Melbourne, many children would present with reactions to cow’s milk (e.g. their asthma would flare up after having milk, and clear up when it was avoided), but IgE tests and skin prick testing revealed no reaction.
A new test was developed called “IgG” antibody testing. This is available at laboratories like Healthscope and in-house testing here at All Degrees of Health in Essendon (see ‘what to do’ below for more info on this ‘Food Detective test’). However it has helped many people uncover sensitivities to food that they would have not otherwise known about.
Fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and other components of food can cause diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain in people who lack the enzymes to break these down. This leads to reducing the quantity of, or restriction of food that contain these products (e.g. following the FODMAPs diet to reduce fructose consumption, using lactose free products like Zymil milk or whey products instead of regular milk with lactose intolerance). Testing involves a hydrogen breath test (we can request the test here as to date there is no Medicare rebate)
Chemicals like salicylates and amines are present in healthy foods like tomatoes and oranges, and may cause problems (like eczema, asthma), and a myriad of other problems. Testing here is a bit trickier – it is best tackled with an experimental low reactive diet where chemicals in food are kept to a minimum, then rechallenged. A great reference is a book called: “Friendly Food” from the Royal Prince Alfred Allergy Unit ISBN 1-74045-376-X with great recipes and it lists the amounts of chemicals in the various food groups.
What to do and how to test?
Regardless of what the food is that causes symptoms, the Naturopathic approach is to make the gut stronger (less “leaky”) to be able to cope with the widest variety of foods possible. This is not relevant in coeliac disease or anaphylactic responses.
Unfortunately there is no one test that can check everything.
One great starting point is to assess your blood using live blood analysis, where you actually see your blood up on screen. This will check if you have signs of increased gut permeability (i.e. ‘leaky gut’), allergy or inflammatory changes.
If it appears to be true allergy (you can tell by the presence of certain white blood cells called ‘eosinophils’, it’s best to get referred onto a Dr. or allergist for IgE testing (which is Medicare rebatable)
For ‘intolerances’, the hardest but cheapest way is to do an elimination-rechallenge diet. This involves a low reactive diet for a period of at least 2 weeks, followed by challenging individual foods, one at a time. This is time-consuming, stressful but do-able, given encouragement and support! We offer a supervised program here with menu plans and lots of options to make it easier.
IgG tests are now readily available at our clinic during your consultation. For $252 the ‘Food Detective Test’ can check for 48 common foods in less than 45 minutes. The antigens of the food are impregnated in a reaction tray with your blood. For more information see: http://www.food-detective.com.au
5 and 93 food testing is available at Healthscope (I can write a referral for these).
Breath testing can be organized through our referral or your GP, and costs around $90 per test (fructose, lactose and galactose). If positive, instructions for trialing a low FODMAP diet then rechallenging are discussed and instructed.
There is also a more ‘energetic’ testing available, particularly suited for children that don’t want to be pricked, and those wanting more comprehensive assessment for colours, metals, detergents, drinks, preservatives etc. It involves sending hair specimen, and costs $120. This is sent to a country colleague who sends back the results within the week, with options to desensitize using homeopathic drops.
In summary, food reactions can be a complicated matter, but with some skillful testing and thorough treatment, they can be either overcome, or well managed.
As well as management of symptoms, side effects can be increased energy, regulation of weight, digestive health and more balanced hormones, and a plethora of other great benefits!
So consider some detective work with an experienced health practitioner who can guide you through what seems a complex assessment to achieve optimal health.
Doreen Schwegler graduated from the Southern School of Natural Therapies in 1989 and has been working as a Naturopath in Essendon, Melbourne since then. She initially graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science from RMIT in 1982 in Medical Laboratory Science, majoring in Haematology and worked in various hospitals and labs in Melbourne and the UK. Doreen also received an Advanced Diploma of Natural Fertility with Francesca Naish (author of “Natural Way to Better Babies” series) and has specialised in Natural Fertility Management for the past 16 years
She is the founder of “All Degrees of Health”, a Wellness practice in Essendon, Victoria, and now focuses on assisting couples in having healthy babies, personalising health care using genetic profiling, weight management and on providing Bowen Therapy.
Doreen has authored various publications in Health and women’s magazines, co-authored the book “Smart Business Builders” and “Health for mature Women”, and her work has been featured in Melbourne-area newspapers lectured. She has tutored at some of Melbourne’s tertiary institutions, and has presented locally and internationally on her work with women’s health and fertility. She was nominated for the Telstra Women in Business Award, and won the Star Women in Business award in 2011 in the “Health and Fitness” category. She publishing her own book “Complete Health Overhaul” A Guide towards Happiness, Healthy Ageing and better Sex, helping people get on-track for optimal health and happiness.