Allergies to food, pollen, dust mites and a whole host of other things, feel so commonplace now that they’re almost trendy. But far from being a fad, food allergies are serious conditions where sufferers can experience sudden, life threatening symptoms.
Peanut and shellfish allergies are amongst the most well-known food allergies, but food-wise, it’s possible to be allergic to other nuts and fish, milk, eggs and even celery.
A food allergy is caused by an immune reaction to a certain food or ingredient, that other people can be exposed to with no problems. In an allergy sufferer, the substance, or allergen, triggers an immune response as it thinks the body is under threat. An allergic response can cause wheezing, hives (itchy red bumps on the skin) and swelling of the face, eyes, mouth and throat. More seriously, it can result in an asthma attack or anaphylaxis.
Less serious, is a food intolerance, or sensitivity, which means that sufferers find it difficult to digest certain foods, such as gluten or lactose from dairy products. Symptoms include bloating, gas, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Whilst a food intolerance isn’t life threatening, it can still impact someone’s life, just to a lesser extent than a food allergy.
Could the Gut Hold the Answers?
A whopping 44% of British adults have an allergy, a number which increases by about 2 million sufferers year on year. Between 1992 and 2012, people admitted to hospital suffering anaphylactic shock increased by over 600%.
Clearly, something is happening to cause this surge in allergies, and scientists think the problem could be in our gut. Our gut is home to trillions of good bacteria, fungi and viruses, collectively called our ‘microbiome’. There’s a direct link between our microbiome and our immune system – the healthier our microbiome, the more supported our immune system.
Since food allergies have an immune response, researchers are hypothesising a link between how healthy our microbiome is, and our likelihood of developing a food allergy.
Gut Health and Probiotics
The health of our microbiome is directly related to what we eat. If we regularly eat processed meats and sugary, fatty and salty foods, it can weaken our microbiome. Our good bugs need fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses to thrive. This fibre is called ‘prebiotic’ fibre and includes a substance called inulin, found in onions and garlic, and also in supplement form.
Could the fact that our diets have become more reliant on fast, processed and takeaway food, meaning that our microbiomes are compromised, be behind the rise in allergies? Quite possibly.
This isn’t to say a diet of burgers and chips means we’ll definitely develop a food allergy. Plenty of food allergy sufferers eat a healthy diet. But having a microbiome that’s under par can lead to a higher risk of developing a food allergy.
Probiotic foods and supplements also help to support the microbiome. Probiotic foods include fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir. They’re rich in probiotic bugs that top up our microbiome.
Or, we can take probiotic supplements that keep our microbiome, gut and immune system happy. And whilst they’re not the answer to completely eliminating food allergies, they could well become part of our armoury against life threatening food allergies.
How happy is your gut?