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Food allergies and coeliac (celiac) disease

Rather than a food 'allergy', celiac / coeliac disease is a specific type of food intolerance - to gluten - that can lead to increased risk of other food intolerances and allergies due to the damage to the gut. That was something I wasn't told when diagnosed as celiac more than 15 years ago.

However, other food intolerances began to crop up in my thoughts more and more as, despite my strictly gluten free diet, I felt worse and worse.

My food intolerance symptoms

Looking back on it now, I had been suffering from the symptoms of food intolerance for 2 years at least, probably longer, before I realised it wasn't just 'hidden gluten' causing my problems.

My symptoms were:

  • A dull, persistent headache
  • Nausea on waking and often for much of the day
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Lack of stamina - by mid afternoon most days I would be out of energy and only able to do mundane tasks
  • Wheezing (I was seriously worried - I thought I had asthma)
  • Poorly formed stools (yep, sorry folks, if we're going to talk food allergy we have to talk poo ;-)

How I discovered I had food intolerances other than gluten

It's funny how you explain symptoms away. I had been convinced for yearas that my inexpicable symptoms were the result of 'micro-glutening' - that is, tiny amounts of gluten even in gluten-free products. I simply thought I was highly sensitive.

This went on for years, leading to sometimes bizarre conclusions such as "that creme freche must have gluten in it" (when in fact I was probably reacting to the casein in cow's milk, which I now know is another highly problematic dietary protein for many people).

The final straw came when for the 3rd time in about 2 months, I felt terrible the day after eating a personal favourite - aubergine curry. It was all made in our kitchen as most of our food is, yet still the next day I was zombiefied. My explanation was "it must be the curry powder". I explained this to my mum, also a celiac, and she said "unless it was the aubergines".

Intolerance illumination!

The lights came on. I called a friend who is a bit of a nutrition fiend and she confirmed that allergy to the deadly nightshade food group is fairly common (this includes aubergines, potatoes, tomatoes and bell peppers). Avoiding this food group immediately made me feel better so I decided to dig a little deeper.

The 'silent' food intolerance that was making me feel so bad

I bought a book called "Is what you eat making you ill" by Patrick Holford, which explained the difference between 'classic' food allergy (or IgE allergy) and slow-onset food intolerance (or IgG allergy). IgE allergy is the sort that peanut allergy sufferers have, and can be life-threatening. IgG allergy is less well understood (and totally unknown to the majority of healthcare practitioners it seems to me).

How IgG food allergy / intolerance works

Eating the foods you are allergic to triggers an immune response to the food particles in the bloodstream. The story goes that celiacs are more susceptible because they have damaged guts, and so larger protein molecules than are supposed to can pass into the bloodstream. There they are interpreted as invaders and so trigger an immune reaction. Antibodies are created to that particular food type and the next time you eat the food, the reaction is worse.

How to discover which foods you are intolerant to

I was extremely sceptical of the food allergy tests I had read and heard about, and rightly so. Many of them are supported by little science and do not yield reliable results. I ended up using this food intolerance test.

I felt better immediately

It is impossible to describe how much better I felt when I started avoiding the foods that the allergy test identified. Most of the 'brain fog' disappeared immediately, I stopped feeling sick, my headache went away and I needed 1 to 1 1/2 hours less sleep a night. My concentration improved massively and my mood stabilised. I wan't ravenously hungry all the time and my blood sugar had obviously sorted itself out.

With the help of gut-healing supplements and a rigorous vitamin regime, about 2 months later I was having days where I felt like superman. I didn't need breaks during the day, I could work into the evening rather than collapsing at 5pm, and I felt like having fun again. Here's more on my complete food allergy treatment regime.

[Note: Added 5 years after writing this article - I am now less sure about IgG food intolerances, or at least that they apply to me. What I have learned is that isolating problem foods is a minefield! For example, the 'nightshade intolerance' above can also be explained by the fact that nightshades can trigger the release of histamine, causing wheezing, hives and gut symptoms. More on histamine intolerance here.]

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