Adverse reactions to food

Adverse reactions to foods are becoming a mainstay of discussion in nutritional medicine and clinical science. Allergy UK estimates that almost half of us (45%) have a sensitivity to certain foods with 2% of the UK population having a true food allergy. One in four people in the UK experiences an immediate and violent reaction to food, ranging from an itchy rash to vomiting and abdominal pain. Allergy UK also estimates that even greater numbers in the population have a food intolerance.

People often confuse the terms allergy and intolerance when discussing adverse reactions to food because of similar symptoms that each produces. Food allergy describes an abnormal immunological response in which an individual’s immune system overracts to foods that are ordinarily harmless. The allergen is invariably a protein component of the food. Food intolerance however is principally caused by enzymatic defects in the digestive system and is a non-immune physical reaction to a food or food additive(s). It commonly produces symptoms such as constipation, bloating and diarrhoea along with low energy levels, fatigue (which could be exacerated by a poor sleep pattern) and resultant mood swings. People can also have outbreaks of eczema, thrush, headaches and frequent coughs and colds, although often, they do not link these symptoms to their diet.

Treatment for allergic states is more straightforward that for food sensitivity states with drugs of choice being antihistamines, non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as sodium cromoglycate or aspirin as well as auto-injections of adrenaline in severe cases or anaphylaxis. Natural alternatives include herbal remedies (nettle, basil, thyme, tarragon, chamomile, yarrow, ginkgo, echinacea) and supplementations of quercetin, bromelain, garlic and honey amongst other measures. Invariably, there is a thorough review of diet, an assessment of nutrirional status, food avoidance as necessary and education about food and nutrition.

Read the full article here: Adverse Reactions to Food

Primary Health Care 2007; 17(10): 25-29rcnpublishing

Primary Health Care Journal is a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) publication.