Category Archives: allergy

Is gluten intolerance on the increase?

According to Professor Markku Mäki, head of a research project in the Academy of Finland’s Research Programme on Nutrition, Food and Health (ELVIRA), the occurrence of gluten intolerance in the Finnish population has doubled in the past 20 years (1).  Although this study took place in Finland it is relevant to look at since many individuals in the UK are becoming increasingly concerned by food intolerance issues.  In the early 1980’s, about 1% of adults in Finland had gluten intolerance, but the figure has since gone up to 2% by the 2000’s.  In a press release (1) the professor stated “We’ve already seen a similar trend emerge earlier on where allergies and certain autoimmune disorders are concerned. Screening has shown that gluten intolerance occurs in 1.5 per cent of Finnish children and 2.7 per cent of the elderly. The higher figure for older people is explained by the fact that the condition becomes more frequent with age

In January I wrote about Food Allergy and Intolerance week and mentioned the charity Allergy UKAllergy UK is a national medical charity established to represent the views and needs of people with allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity” 

Allergy UK say that “ Every patient with allergy or ‘intolerance’ should be able to get an adequate and appropriate allergy assessment through the NHS, with the right advice about avoidance of their triggers and management of their symptoms. Unfortunately NHS primary care allergy services are patchy and many people do not get the help they need.  Allergy UK continues to campaign for better provision of NHS allergy services but has also developed partnerships with others to provide paid-for allergy screening services for allergy sufferers who need them. Allergy UK ensures that the training for staff in these services is adequate and sensible, carries out audits and clinical governance and provides follow-up information and support for every person who uses these services”.  The charity also has a helpline 01322 619898 which can be called for information on your closest relevant NHS clinic or accredited screening services.  The website is full of information and certainly worth a visit


Although the information from Finland has not been duplicated in the UK it may well be relevant since it seems that increasing numbers of people are reporting experiencing symptoms of food intolerance.  According to Professor Mäki, gluten intolerance may often be symptom-free, and people may be unaware that they have the condition if their symptoms are mild or atypical. Three out of four people with gluten intolerance have not been diagnosed, which also means that they are as yet going without treatment (1).

Unfortunately diagnosis and screening methods are still not readily employed in the UK and there seems to be little consensus about which methods are best.  Professor Mäki’s research team has concluded that the criteria for diagnosing gluten intolerance must be rewritten. The current criteria for diagnosis tends to focus on damage to the intestines, established in a tissue sample from the small intestine. However, early stages of gluten intolerance are not identifiable from tissue samples.  People may suffer from gluten intolerance, yet have no intestinal symptoms. They may, however, have symptoms unrelated to the intestinal tract. Serious problems with nutrient absorption have become rare; instead, sufferers generally have anaemia due to iron deficiency or folic acid deficiency as their main symptom. If researchers manage to develop sensitive, accurate antibody tests, it will become possible to identify people with early stages of gluten intolerance, who are in need of further treatment. At present, there is no single test to reliably identify early stages of gluten intolerance (1).

A Food Intolerance fact sheet is available from Allergy UK and also mention a new food intolerance home testing kit, Food Detective™ which has been launched by Cambridge Nutritional Sciences Ltd.  If you think you may be suffering with a food allergy it would be worth using the website and calling the helpline for more information.  If you do purchase and use the home testing kit I would urge you to discuss the results with your GP, or call the Allergy UK helpline mentioned above.  It is never a good idea to simply cut out whole food groups as this can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other problems.


(1)Press release.  Academy of Finland Communications.

Written by Ani Kowal


Food Allergy and Intolerance Week

This week is national Food allergy and Intolerance week – for more information about this campaign week please visit the Allergy UK website.  “Allergy UK is a national medical charity established to represent the views and needs of people with allergy, food intolerance and chemical sensitivity

Allergy UK say: “Too often allergy or intolerance sufferers become labeled as being fussy eaters or just thought to be following the latest fad, this could not be further from the truth. Stolen Lives 7 – Food Allergy and Intolerance Report (available at the Allergy UK website), by Allergy UK highlights how difficult it is to live with a food allergy and intolerance. The most simple of choices such as what to make for dinner or what to put in their child’s packed lunch becomes a nightmare”.

It can be really challenging to decipher whether abdominal/gut or other irritating symptoms are due to stress, illness or a food intolerance or allergy.  Often medical doctors disregard the idea of intolerances but as mentioned above the symptoms can be very distressing, and certainly very real, to the sufferer.  Allergy UK say: “Finding out what you are intolerant to is the another priority for many. The lack of understanding regarding food intolerance within the medical profession leads many to search for a reliable test to identify the cause of their problems. A staggering 88% of respondents reported that they had suffered for years before they found help in managing their food intolerance with little or no help from their GP. Thankfully a new food intolerance testing kit, which detects foods specific IgG antibodies, Food Detective™ has been launched by Cambridge Nutritional Sciences Ltd. Food Detective™ is reliable and simple to use at home”.  The Food Detective kit is widely available and can be purchased here.

If you decide to use the Food Detective test kit I would urge you to see a registered Nutritionist or Nutritional practitioner, or indeed a sympathetic GP, to go over the results with you.  It is never a good idea to simply cut out whole food groups as this can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other problems

There are two websites I would recommend where you can search for registered practitioners in your area:
1)      The UK voluntary resister of nutritionists
2)      The British association for applied nutrition and nutritional therapy

For more information about what food allergies and intolerances are and what causes them visit the allergy UK website

The most common symptoms of an allergy or intolerance are:
*Runny nose
*Itchy eyes and ears
*Severe wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
*Sinus problems
*Sore palate
*Nettle-like rash.

Symptoms of intolerances and allergy can be eased with nutritional and dietary help.  For more information on this I would suggest you read the two posts that I wrote about asthma (Part 1. Part 2.) and also my posts regarding hay fever.  Some general advice would be to boost the immune system via a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits which provide vitamins and bioflavonoids.  In addition to this omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines (at least two portions per week) are really helpful to the immune system and also to reduce inflammation in the body.  Probiotics have also been found to be useful for allergy prevention, symptom easing and for boosting immune health.  I have discussed these points further in the posts mentioned above.  Taking an omega 3 fatty acid supplement may be incredibly useful to ease allergic symptoms.  Many people in the UK do not get enough of these essential fats in their diet.  A supplement providing about 250-350mg EPA and 250-350mg DHA daily could be considered.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement containing around 500-1000mg alpha linoleic acid daily is an option, vegetarian EPA and DHA supplements made from algae are becoming more available to buy and provide a good choice. 


Written by Ani Kowal


High folate levels linked to reduced allergies

Previously I have written about folic acid and the prevention of birth defects and also the necessity of this vitamin for heart health.  A newly published study (1) has found that this essential B vitamin may also suppress allergic reactions and reduce the severity of allergy symptoms and asthma symptoms. The research was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre.

The Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre is Maryland’s largest paediatric hospital (USA).  Hopkins Children’s offers the best care available in modern paediatric medicine and U.S. News & World Report ranks Hopkins Children’s among the top four children’s hospitals in the USA.

The scientists believe that this is the first human study to look at the link between the levels of folate in the blood and allergy.  Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid.  Previous evidence exists to show that folate can help regulate inflammation which is a big factor in allergy.  For more information on eating to help prevent and reduce allergy symptoms please read my previous posts on asthma and hay fever these are full of general tips, advice and supplement ideas.

In this current study(1) the researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre reviewed the medical records of over 8,000 people aged 2-85.  The researchers looked at the effect of folate levels on allergic symptoms and on the levels of specific immune system markers, IgE antibodies, which tend to rise in response to an allergen (allergic trigger).

It was found that individuals with the highest levels of folate had the lowest levels of IgE antibodies in their blood.  These people also reported fewer allergies and allergic symptoms, less wheezing and had a lower likelihood of having asthma.  In a press release (2) the scientists said: “Our findings are a clear indication that folic acid may indeed help regulate immune response to allergens, and may reduce allergy and asthma symptoms,” They also say “But we still need to figure out the exact mechanism behind it, and to do so we need studies that follow people receiving treatment with folic acid, before we even consider supplementation with folic acid to treat or prevent allergies and asthma.”

Specific findings of the study (2):
*People with the lowest folate levels (below 8 nanograms per milliliter) had 40% higher risk of wheezing than people with the highest folate levels (above 18 ng/ml).
*People with the lowest folate levels had a 30% higher risk than those with the highest folate levels of having elevated IgE antibodies, markers of allergy predisposition.
*Those with the lowest folate levels had 31% higher risk of atopy (allergic symptoms) than people with the highest folate levels.
*Those with lowest folate levels had 16% higher risk of having asthma than people with the highest folate levels.
*The Hopkins team is planning a study comparing the effects of folic acid and placebo in people with allergies and asthma.

Many cereals and grain products are already fortified with folate, and folate is found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, beans and nuts.  As mentioned in the posts on asthma and hay fever an overall healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, omega 3 fats from oily fish and nuts/seeds (especially walnuts and flaxseeds), unprocessed wholegrains and unprocessed meats will go far in nourishing the body, keeping inflammation low, and helping it to deal effectively with potential allergic triggers.  Please do read the previous posts for more information on specific important nutrients to help prevent and treat allergyies. 


(1)Matsui EC and Matsui W.  2009.  Higher serum folate levels are associated with a lower risk of atopy and wheeze.  published online 01 May 2009.  The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.  DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2009.03.007.
(2) Press release, Folic Acid May Help Treat Allergies, Asthma 

Written by Ani Kowal