Allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are fast becoming chronic conditions in Australia. Some estimates suggest up to 20% of the population may have a food intolerance or food allergy. Common symptoms of intolerances and allergies include hayfever, allergic rhinitis, digestive disorder such as leaky gut and dysbiosis to eczema and asthma, to the more serious life-threatening anaphylaxis.
What is Tolerance?
As humans, we are constantly exposed to an array of foreign bodies via the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory system and the skin. Each individual’s immune systems interacts with and acknowledges these in a variety of ways, creating situations ranging from no reaction to a serious anaphylactic reaction, and anywhere in between.
The classic allergic reaction begins when the allergen complex (e.g. IgE antibodies) binds to the mast cell, resulting in mast cell degranulation and the release of histamine and other inflammatory mediators. Therefore, in order to reduce the reaction, potent mast cell stabilisation is required. Mast cells are commonly found in the mucosa (lining of skin and mucous) of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract and submucosa (deeper layer) of skin cells, making these organs key areas for the expression of allergy symptoms. Exposure to food antigens can trigger rapid gut inflammation leading to barrier hyperpermeability (referred to as leaky gut).
Allergies occur from environmental and food substances. Common environmental allergens include pets, pollen, house dust mites, moulds, and insects. Allergens occur when the immune system reacts to some of the proteins in the allergens. Food allergens include wheat, gluten, lactose, nuts, seafoods, and strawberries, and this list is increasing all the time. An allergic reaction involves a complex interplay between antigens, immune cells (e.g. T cells, Immunoglobulin E (IgE), Immunoglobulin G (IgG), Immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies) and effector cell activation (mast cells, basophils, eosinophils). Which results in an inflammatory response (a reaction), with localised and systemic symptoms. Allergies can lead to sustained inflammation which then may act as a potential driver exacerbating other chronic health conditions.
An intolerance is considered a ‘chemical’ reaction to a substance, usually a food protein, and does not show up on a traditional allergy test. Symptoms of food intolerances and sensitivities are fatigue, headaches, anxiety, skin complaints, gastrointestinal symptoms, migraine, depression, joint and muscle pain.
Food sensitivity is usually a delayed reaction to a food or substance that is milder than an intolerance or allergy.
The approach of usual treatment is to recommend avoidance of the allergen and to prescribe symptomatic relief when needed. While this may relieve symptoms in the short term, avoidance of food allergens can be a double-edged sword. As highly restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups are generally not recommended long term, due to the potential risk of nutritional deficiencies, especially in children.
While effective symptomatic relief is important for physiological and phycological comfort and to reduce and systemic inflammation. However, it is also imperative that the underlying drivers or causes of the allergic response be addressed for long term relief and health.
When you consider why one person reacts to a potential allergen and another doesn’t, it is due to their differing immunological response to a common harmless substance. Which is a failure of the immune system to determine friend from foe resulting in a loss of immune tolerance to this innocuous component and subsequent reactivity.
Immune System & Gastrointestinal Tract
Do you have a healthy gastrointestinal tract?
New research has found a close connection between the immune system and the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. Around 70% of the immune system is found in the gastrointestinal track. There is no doubt that the gastrointestinal track plays a vital role in the regulation of the immune response to food and the environment.
The exposure to food antigens can trigger rapid gut inflammation leading to barrier hyperpermeability, sometimes termed ‘leaky gut’. The Immunoglobulin A (IgA) system is re-emerging as an important pathway in the pathogenesis of food allergy. Insufficient secretory IgA (sIgA) at the intestinal barrier appears to contribute substantially to an individual’s threshold for food allergy.
The microbiome also plays a role in the development of immune tolerance with research demonstrating that reduced gastrointestinal microbial diversity in early life is associated with the development of food allergy or food sensitisation. Microbial-induced protection from food allergy was associated with improved mucosal barrier function.
Poor diet choices and mal-digestion
improper digestive function which can occur due to low gastric acid, and/or poor enzyme secretion, and this may be linked to food sensitivities and a lack of tolerance due to food components not being adequately assimilated. Gastric acid suppressive medications have also been associated with poor digestion and intolerances.
Increasing tolerance to environmental and food-borne allergens is a key strategy when faced with the myriad of respiratory, skin and digestive allergic/reactive events that can impact individuals of all ages. Supporting healthy digestive function is essential when addressing allergies and sensitivities. Concomitant support of both the gastrointestinal and immune system is therefore central to providing a more solid and long-term solution to allergic conditions.
By addressing the factors that influence tolerance combined with therapeutic elimination and gradual re-introduction of intolerant foods to the diet, there is the potential to decrease the frequency and/or intensity of the allergic response. Improvement of both short- and long-term health and wellbeing can be achieved whereby you experience an improved quality of life without a long, term restrictive diet or lifestyle.
10 Things you can do to improve gut function
- Eat slowly and chew foods well
- Discover and avoid foods known to increase intestinal permeability
- Test for and avoid food allergens
- Reduce life stresses, as the stress response directly influences gut permeability
- Avoid processed foods with artificial colours and flavours
- Eat a good amount and variety of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Adequate intake of fibre
- Include foods high in omega 3 fatty acids
- Include a daily probiotic of mixed strain of 20-40 billion CFU
- Ensure you have adequate levels of iron, zinc and vitamin D
Allergies, intolerances and gut health symptoms can be confusing to understand and control. The process of understanding what the problem is, and how to make changes to get results can be difficult.
If you would like further information on how to improve your symptoms, please don’t hesitate to call.