Food Allergies and How They Affect the Gut

Food allergies and food intolerances are different things. ‘Food allergy’ refers to an inappropriate immune reaction to a thing that seems like it wouldn’t cause harm to the wider masses and contains no pathogens (an organism that causes disease). It appears immediately and can last for hours. The most severe reaction being anaphylactic shock. Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. It’s an adverse reaction to a food, likely to kick off in the gastrointestinal tract usually caused by your body not being able to process it properly. You usually experience them about 30mins after eating them but might not appear for at least two days after. Symptoms can include nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

The most common food allergies are caused by milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. In fact, 90% of food allergies are caused by them. Sneezing, runny or blocked nose, watery eyes, hives, swelling, tummy pain, nausea, diarrhea and the more severe reaction of anaphylactic shock can occur.

I’ve noticed that cafes that have joined the gluten-free fad by supplying at least one gluten-free option on the menu sometimes forget that there is something called coeliac out there and that if their customers buy their gluten-free produce they could go into anaphylactic shock. I’ve noticed this because in the fridge, the gluten-free food is almost always sat right next to the products with gluten, sitting there getting contaminated throughout the day. I had an American friend a few years ago who whenever there was a banana around, she would go into anaphylactic shock. She only had to breathe it in and she would spend the rest of the day in hospital. I know just how bad food allergies can get. Also, if you work or own at one of these cafes, please know that if this is currently what you do, you can land yourself in legal trouble if you cause someone to die thanks to them experiencing anaphylactic shock after eating at your café.

But what are these allergens doing to our gut?

Researchers have found that the mode of delivery impacts the establishment of gut microbiota in babies. Meaning, your gut microbiota will be different whether you were naturally born or delivered via C-section. Those that were born via C-section have lower levels of some species of bacteria than those naturally born. Those differences are linked to a higher risk of developing allergic diseases and asthma.

Diet is also a huge part of it. Breastfeeding can increase the colonisation by some beneficial bacteria, particularly lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Oligosaccharides are the main food source for gut microbiota and contribute to a balance of bacteria which will work together to train our immune system. These oligosaccharides live in breastmilk. After weening, gut microbiota can change. It becomes more diverse as new foods are introduced. It’s essential to follow a high fibre diet in order to nourish these good bacteria.

Antibiotics can also change your gut microbiota. Have you noticed that when you go to the doctor these days, they are extremely reluctant to prescribe you antibiotics when you are unwell? That’s because more and more research has come out and antibiotics are thought to do more harm on a long-term level than good on a short-term level. Antibiotics kills ALL bacteria in your gut, even the good stuff. Probiotics should always be taken with them to rebuild the good bacteria that the antibiotics kills. They will also boost your immune system, which benefits allergies, as they are born in your immune system.

Regular exercise is also linked to greater diversity of gut microbiota, even increasing the good bacteria in your gut.

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