Allergies & Intolerances


You may have noticed upon visiting us at Yass Chiropractic that we are a 'gluten free zone'. Whilst this may be unusual, we've found it to be necessary and helpful in managing Dr Robyn Stephenson's severe intolerance to gluten. Because of intolerances and allergies to multiple family members, both Robyn and Lauren and their respective families have led gluten free lives for years now. Robyn & Lauren are always happy to discuss food alternatives; just ask!
Following years of her own research and self-experimentation, Dr Stephenson has written the following blog post to help others navigate this problem as well as other food allergy and intolerance problems which unfortunately are becoming more prevalent in our society.
This Allergies & Intolerances Blog can get a bit complicated at times, and is certainly not light reading, but if it’s something you’re interested in then read away!

Should any of us be eating Gluten?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin and is found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, triticale and some other foods, thus gluten is found in many foods in the western diet, especially. It’s not uncommon to have toast or cereal for breakfast, a sandwich or pie for lunch and pasta for dinner. Even the healthy food triangle suggests we ought to have lots of servings of grains/pasta/bread each day. And it seems that gluten-containing foods not only taste good, they supposedly ARE good for you: gluten helps bind foods together, it helps foods to fluff up and it is a good source of carbohydrates, fibre and even protein. On the surface, foods like wheat seem like a fantastic food. Even our paleolithic ancestors would’ve eaten gluten, but usually only seasonally, as the grains ripened. Over time, people began to farm grains as they were found to be a nutritious source of food. So now most people eat grains not just seasonally, but multiple times every day. And the problem with this is that gluten can damage the gut lining – and even damages healthy gut linings! So it isn’t actually a good food for anybody, really, and especially not in large quantities nor eaten regularly. In some people, who have Coeliac Disease, it can make them extremely sick. Coeliacs suffer from an auto-immune disorder whereby a protein in gluten causes their body to attack itself and they are at greater risk of suffering from such illnesses as bowel cancer if they continue to eat gluten-containing foods. Coeliacs’ stomach and intestinal linings (called ‘villi’, little hair-like structures that help food to move along and get absorbed in the gut) become damaged/flattened if they consume gluten containing foods, even in micro-amounts. The gut linings need to function properly because they are necessary to absorb your food. When the gut linings become flattened and don’t work properly, they don’t absorb enough nutrients hence people with undiagnosed Coeliac disease often have other health issues because of poor nutrition. Sometimes it is because of these other health concerns that someone is eventually tested for, and diagnosed with, Coeliac disease eg osteoporosis, weight fluctuations, energy issues etc.
Some people who can’t manage gluten-containing foods also can’t stomach oats either. Although gluten is not technically in oats, the proteins in oats (avenalin & avenin) are so similar to the proteins in wheat (gliadin & glutenin) that it can fool the body and the body can then have a reaction. So it can all get a bit complicated!
The only pathology tests you can get in Australia now to determine if you have Coeliac disease are threefold:
(1) a blood test for your genetics to check if you carry the HLADQ2 or HLADQ8 genes (99% of Coeliacs carry either one or both of these genes)
(2) a blood test to check if you have antibodies to gluten whereby they test for sensitivity to one particular protein in wheat. This is called the IgA tissue transglutaminase antibody test, (also known as ‘tTG’ test)
(3) a biopsy to determine if you have flattened villi (little hair-likes structures on the lining of the gut) in your gut which will confirm Coeliac disease
The only known way to help with Coeliac disease is to completely eradicate gluten from your diet, even microscopically (so no traces of wheat flour etc in your food!). Given only 1% of the population is thought to have Coeliac disease, it would be reasonable to think that this is something that probably doesn’t affect you.

BUT DOES GLUTEN AFFECT YOU?

Because it’s not just Coeliacs that have a problem with gluten. As stated above, gluten damages even healthy guts! And in Australia, the tTG gluten antibody test only tests for ONE protein in ONE food containing gluten. That’s a whole lot of proteins that are being missed! In the USA, there is a laboratory called Cyrex that tests for a whole range of proteins in a whole range of gluten-containing foods; it’s much more complex. You may have a sensitivity to any number of these; or to none of them. But if you are in that section of the population that has sensitivity to gluten-containing foods (touted to be somewhere between 10% to 50% of the population) whereby you get gut problems or other symptoms (see below) but you don’t have a positive gluten antibody test and you don’t carry the genetic markers for it, well, where do you fit in? If you’re not sure, and a pile of blood tests isn’t your thing, or they don’t confirm anything but you still have symptoms, you could always try going gluten-free (GF) for 2 weeks to test it out. It really can be that simple sometimes.

SYMPTOMS OF GLUTEN INTOLERANCE:

  • Gut disturbances (constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, bloating, excessive farting and burping)
  • Sleep disturbances (nightmares, altered sleep cycle)
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Mood disturbances
  • Irregular menstrual cycles and/or PMS symptoms
  • Difficulty getting or staying pregnant
  • Depression and/or suicidal thoughts
  • Recurrent dental cavities
  • Brain fog/cloudy thinking
  • Headaches
  • …and many more...

In fact, a study has shown that over 50 conditions today are attributable to eating gluten! Diseases like Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. And given that these are our major killers today, this problem with gluten seems like a major health issue that is being ignored by the governments of today – and most people.

WHY IS GLUTEN SO READILY AVAILABLE?

If up to 50% of us have gluten intolerance, why are there so few gluten-free (GF) labelled foods on supermarket shelves? And why are supermarket shelves jam-packed with gluten-contained foods? The simple response is that most people don’t think they have a problem with gluten. And a lot of people like their gluten-containing foods anyway. Humans are naturally hedonistic and will gravitate towards foods and situations that aren’t good for them. Maybe we just like a challenge, who knows! Gluten, like sugar, can be quite addictive. And many gluten-containing foods also have sugar in them, making it harder to say no. Some people are honestly too lazy to want to change their diet. There are many reasons why there’s not a huge availability of GF-labelled foods.
But just because something is readily available doesn’t mean it’s good for you. I don’t think that having wheat for breakfast (cereal), lunch (sandwich) and dinner (pasta) is a good idea for anyone. To put it another way, I don’t think having apple for breakfast (fresh), lunch (in a pie) and dinner (stewed) is a good idea, either! Having so many carbohydrates in the diet isn’t a sensible idea when you start looking at the physiology of what they do to the body, either, but it’s there in the healthy food triangle saying we have to have LOTS of carbohydrates! A ketogenic diet higher in protein (eg whole meat, eggs, nuts etc), fruits and vegetables and fats is best – and in corporation with daily exercise, can be very useful for losing weight and keeping it off. People shouldn’t be afraid to eat their fats, either; but remember that there are still ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats. What’s really wrong with some fresh avocado, non-GMO sunflower oil or coconut? Probably nothing, unless you’ve had your gall bladder out! The body needs fat – and fat doesn’t turn into fat. Unused carbohydrates turn into fat! There is such a variety of food out there today that it seems almost criminal to use just the one grain (wheat) all the time in the western world, just as rice is overused in Asia. That old saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ makes a lot of sense. So try some new foods and spice up your life!

I’M GOING TO TRY GLUTEN-FREE FOR 2 WEEKS. WHAT CAN I EAT?

The short answer is anything that doesn’t have gluten in it!
To go GF for 2 weeks, you can have a huge range of food. For breakfast, perhaps a Big Breakfast or bacon and eggs. Or just eggs: soft boiled, hard boiled, scrambled, poached, in an omelette. Eggs are very versatile! Maybe you could try some GF cereals or GF toast? Although here I WILL say that GF bread is nowhere near as good as gluten-containing bread. So if bread is your all-time favourite food, don’t torture yourself by switching to GF bread. Just don’t eat any bread for 2 weeks!
There are some great GF pastas out there now where you don’t even notice it’s GF. Barilla™ is the best brand in my opinion. Rice is naturally GF, so Asian foods could work well so long as you avoid the soy sauce, or have the true Tamari sauce that has no wheat water in it instead. There are lots of GF biscuits and chips available these days in supermarkets, if you want a naughty snack. There are plenty of sorbets as well. Dairy products are often GF, but then again, dairy also has its own set of problems (unrelated to gluten) that I will go over later in this Blog.
Of course, all fruits and vegetables should be GF! Many grains are GF (eg corn, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, sorghum etc) – but sometimes these grains can be contaminated with gluten, depending on their production lines and general processing. If you’re not sure, call up the company and ask how they manage their lines. But again, just for the 2-week GF test, all of these grains should be absolutely fine to consume. Whole meats should be fine, but marinated meats are not necessarily safe. Legumes can also be a problem, especially if they’ve been processed on the same production lines as wheat or barley. Also watch out for processed meats (roast chickens, ham, sausages etc), as they can have gluten in them. If you’re not sure, Read The Ingredients! This goes for liquids and lollies as well. Since gluten/wheat is classified as an allergen, they have to be labelled on all foods in Australia. Check the packet if you’re unsure; it will tell you if it ‘contains gluten’, ‘may contain traces of gluten’, or is ‘GF’. For the purpose of determining if gluten is a problem for you over a 2-week period, all foods that are labelled either ‘GF’ or ‘may contain traces of gluten’ should be fine to consider eating.
Cooking with GF flours works well, and you can add in ground almonds (or other nuts), psyllium husk and/or coconut flour for some extra protein and fibre. A helpful hint if you’re using coconut flour in a cake: always add an extra egg to the recipe to counteract the thickness of the coconut flour. You can buy ready-to-use GF flours at the local supermarket which you can substitute for normal wheat flour, it’s that easy! ALDI TM stocks good GF flours at low prices.
Eating the skins of vegetables and fruits means you get more fibre that way, too. With chemical usage, though, it would be a good idea to wash these foods before eating, or better yet, try to buy organic where you can – although even organic food still contains some chemical residue! I have personally found that organic green vegetables, especially, taste a lot better than their sprayed counterparts, but I’ll leave that up to your taste buds to decide.
Stir-fries, roasts, salads, pasta dishes, meat and 3-5 veg. They’re all decent meals and the local supermarkets in Yass have good ranges of GF foods. It’s really easy these days to go GF and still get enough protein, carbohydrate, fat and micronutrient content. And if you tell yourself it’s only for 2 weeks then that might make it easier again. Of course, if you notice quite a lot of your symptoms going away during that 2 weeks (see “SYMPTOMS OF GLUTEN INTOLERANCE” above), you then are left with the choices of whether you want to cut gluten out completely, whether you go back to eating it normally (and getting your symptoms back) or whether you decide to mostly avoid it. I should let you know that gluten does not play fair. Those who go off gluten for extended periods of time often find they get stomach pains after eating gluten again, even if they didn’t feel they had a huge change going off gluten in the first place. Being such a fairweather friend, perhaps that’s yet another sign that gluten is not a good food for people to eat regularly, or in large amounts.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER FOOD INTOLERANCES?

You might have some food intolerances that you don’t know about. You could eat something, then have a mood change afterwards. It could be something as simple as having a ‘full’ or bloated feeling after eating a certain food, or finding you are tired after eating. Sometimes a long-standing intolerance can cause symptoms like eczema. Certain foods might make you become more phlegmatic (eg dairy or soy) or headachey (eg MSG or aspartame) or you might find your bowel motions change for the worse. These are all examples of your body saying it doesn’t like a certain food. It’s not an allergy – you’re not throwing up, coming out in hives, fainting or struggling to breathe. It’s an intolerance.
When you eat what’s right for your body, you feel OK after eating! It’s really that simple. Your mood before eating is the same as after eating. You shouldn’t look bloated or feel super full after eating. You shouldn’t get a headache after eating. Also, what’s right for me might be wrong for you. I know people who cannot tolerate apples or chocolate (they get migraines), I know people who get skin rashes from particular fruits, I know people who get headaches after eating foods with MSG in them. Eating what’s right for you can take many years to ascertain. But once you’ve figured it out, life should become a lot better.

FOOD INTOLERANCE VS. ALLERGY?

Food intolerances can sometimes seem like they are allergies if you bombard your body with them. The symptoms can be horrendous; seemingly worse than an allergy. My only true allergies – to cashews and pistachios – have no bearing on my mood, weight, or even dreams. I’ve just always thrown up after eating those two foods and thus try to avoid them. And I’m fine after I throw up. There are no wavering problems two weeks later, I’m not a moody beast, I don’t hurt all over. When I have gluten (which I am supposedly only intolerant to because I lack the genetic markers for Coeliac Disease) it affects my mood (for up to 2 weeks), causes liquid diarrhoea 5 days after ingesting it, causes a myriad of aching joints in my body as well as some lethargy thrown in for good measure! And over time of unintentionally bombarding my gut with traces of gluten (eg from eating out), I will end up throwing up and have constant gut troubles – not to mention depressive and suicidal thoughts. But still, gluten is not classified as an allergy for me, just an intolerance. I think I’ll take my allergy to cashews any day, thanks! I find it strange that it’s the intolerances, not the allergies, that screw around with my headspace and my gut – and rearrange my life. The thing is, if you throw up from a certain food, you learn to avoid it pretty quick smart. But if it’s just a bit of gas and bloating and diarrhoea? Well, that’s more socially acceptable and doesn’t make you call in sick, literally! Sometimes I think allergies and intolerances run a fine line – and it makes it difficult for people to know if they have a strong intolerance or a mild allergy. Reading up on a lot of research about gluten intolerance and Coeliac Disease, it seems that not all is known about these problems - and that what we might think is the case is not always the case. There is still much more research to be done.
Some people can have very serious allergies, though. They can lose blood pressure and faint, they can stop breathing or struggle to breathe and they can also come out in hives. Or an area of the body can swell up. They suffer from ‘anaphylaxis’. Vomiting sounds like a better option, doesn’t it?! But the person with the allergy doesn’t get that choice. The allergy is seemingly thrust upon them, for a variety of reasons, some of which we still don’t understand. There are genetic components and environmental components to consider. Serious allergies require the person to carry an ASCIA Action Plan, along with 2 epipens and some antihistamines. That’s an extra little carry case everywhere you go, because you never know where you may come into contact with these allergens – allergens that could potentially kill you. Allergens that could be commonplace (eg wheat, peanut, dairy). And people with anaphylaxis need to be vigilant about managing their allergies, because their lives depend upon it, but often they aren’t. See the next section for further information about this.

HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE A FOOD INTOLERANCE?

The medical profession is not going to be your first port of call in this realm. For allergies? Yes, they can be helpful. For food intolerances? Not really. Figuring out your food intolerances will come down to simple trial and error. Or you could keep a ‘food diary’ which might help you pinpoint changes that are not immediate (eg delayed reactions to certain foods).
If you think you might have a food intolerance, next time you’re eating, pay attention to your body. Before you eat the food, notice what mood you’re in. Notice what parts of your body hurt or don’t hurt. How has the bowel been earlier? Then eat the food and see if you notice any changes. You can even ask a friend or partner for feedback if you have changed in any way. Are you slumping your posture more? Not so keen on conversation? Feeling ‘full and fat’ or need a snooze? Need to run off to the toilet? This might happen within minutes, hours or days of eating the food. You might have longer-term issues like eczema or flare-ups of bumpy skin. Sometimes tomatoes (which are part of the Nightshade family), acidic foods, dairy or soy can cause these problems. Sometimes it’s from gluten or other grains. Sometimes it seems to be a contact dermatitis from a certain chemical in your shampoo, soap, make-up etc or an additive in your food (eg a thickener, colouring, preservative etc).
Any or all of these reactions could be related to a food intolerance. Finding those foods, and eliminating those foods for a period of time (while still maintaining a nutritionally sound diet), would be a good start to figuring out your food intolerances. Some foods you can eliminate for just a few days to notice changes. Others you need to eliminate for months. You will figure this out on your journey – everyone is different, and each tolerance level is different – and your tolerance levels can also change over time, just to add another spanner in the works! Some people can have a certain food once a day, or once a week, or only once a month, and not notice any changes whatsoever. That’s called a ‘tolerance’ – where someone can indulge in a certain amount of the food with no side-effects noticed at all. But anything over this causes problems.
Dairy is a really common food intolerance, but most people decide they like their milk in their coffee and won’t go off it. And I know how nice dairy is. A tiramisu is really delicious. And so is a crème brulee! I totally get it! But I don’t have dairy anymore – and I used to LIVE on the stuff. I don’t miss it, either, because I know what it does to me. Dairy was dampening my immune system and keeping scars at the back of my throat (from past throat infections) and limiting my brain function. Without dairy, my immune system is so much better, my old throat scars have actually healed up – and the best part is that my brain functions even better! Faster connections and so much clearer. It’s like I upgraded my CPU by going off dairy! Plus I lost a few kilograms. From just eating a couple of small pieces of cheese a day. Who knows if this holds true for everyone or even anyone else. But that’s what dairy was doing to me. If you like cow’s milk, would you still drink it if you had to walk up to a grown cow and suckle at her teats like her calf does? Perhaps we should start thinking about cow’s milk in this way, rather than seeing it as coming in a plastic bottle at the supermarket, pre-homogenised and pre-pasteurised! Dairy is not an easy one to go off, either. Often you have to go off it for months at a time, even up to 6 months, to realise what it is truly doing to your system. That’s not an easy task for many people. And cheese actually starts to smell fermented if you haven’t had it for 6 months, because, well, it IS fermented! People seem to forget that. 6 months off any food is hard work for anyone and requires a large amount of discipline. But many people seem to have an intolerance to dairy to some degree, from what I can gather, so it might be well worth the wait.
Gluten normally only takes 2 weeks of avoidance to notice if there’s a problem or not. If your headspace is much better (reduced ‘brain fog’ and/or depressive thoughts), your belly bloating disappears, your bowel movements are better, you’re sleeping much better, or you’re having ‘normal’ not ‘vivid’ dreams, then I’d say that gluten is NOT a friendly food for you! Avoid!
Soy can take up to a couple of months to determine – but this will be different for everybody. Sometimes you can only tell if you have a food intolerance once you take something ELSE out of the diet. I didn’t realise that myself and my two older children had intolerances to soy until well after gluten was booted from our house. Soy (eg as soy lecithin, the emulsifier, which is in SO much food) made us all cranky, for about 24 hours, if we had it regularly in our diet. Eaten about once a month or so, we have no issues with it. So now we don’t have it in the house, but if it’s eaten on the odd occasion out and about, it poses no problems.

WHEN SHOULD YOU AVOID AN INTOLERANCE OR ALLERGY?

Most people don’t have an intolerance as bad as gluten is for me, but some do. Obviously for people where their intolerance is terrible, they may need to consider more drastic measures (such as a complete avoidance of the food). For people with only a minor intolerance, if you can keep it in your diet occasionally with no problems, it’s probably best. The body is designed to adapt to its environment, and the less adaptability you have, the less well you are surviving! But to go around with a bloated belly and lots of gas and headaches and a depressive mood? That doesn’t sound like you’re surviving well, either. So find a sensible balance if you can.

I notice that people with mild to moderate intolerances often keep indulging in the food and choose to suffer the consequences later (diarrhoea, gas, bloating, headache etc). Perhaps they do not see that their food intolerance is a big problem, that it won’t kill them, that they can still perform their daily tasks without too much trouble? Perhaps if it were Coeliac Disease, they might look at it differently.

I have come across too many people who have Coeliac Disease themselves, or some other allergy, even anaphylaxis to something, and yet they still have it in the house, unnecessarily exposing themselves to it. Perhaps they feel bad making the rest of their family members kowtow to their way of eating? But if you have Coeliac Disease, that is an autoimmune disease. Your body literally fights itself. It’s not just an intolerance, it’s far worse than that. If you keep getting trace amounts of gluten in your system by having it in the house, you’re almost guaranteeing that you will die of bowel cancer. And studies show that up to a third of people with Coeliac Disease still have flattened villi in their gut, even though they are supposedly staying GF. And it’s these trace amounts of gluten around that most probably cause this. Coeliacs may think they’re doing the right thing, always ordering GF when they’re out, or using a new board at home for their own food if they live with others who eat gluten, but when the waitress or the kitchen hand, their parent or their flatmate don’t understand about being completely GF, the person with Coeliac Disease will continue to suffer. So if you have Coeliac Disease and you’re OK with dying from bowel cancer, then it’s fine to keep having gluten in the house. But are your family members really OK with having you die from this terrible disease just because they want to have wheat-based bread in the house or some fast food? It sounds far-fetched, but that is the reality of it. It needs to be black and white; there are no shades of grey, here, and too many people are complacent about their allergies, especially teenagers and young adults.
Perhaps that’s been the problem surrounding intolerances and allergies. People think it’s OK to test themselves out on a certain food now and then, or to not worry if they eat the wrong thing, because they have an Epipen and an anti-histamine – but what if these don’t work? People with severe allergies can sometimes play Russian Roulette with their daily lives, from something as simple as having a job (eg where the staff or customers may put them in harm’s way inadvertently by contaminating them with micro-amounts of an allergen), to wanting to fit in socially (eg eating out with their friends instead of bringing their own food), or because they’re simply too lazy to bother completely avoiding the allergen (eg not washing the fruit or the packaged foods/cans from the supermarket, which might have trace amounts of an allergen on it).
People with severe intolerances will suffer the consequences (from ingesting the wrong food) for days or weeks, all because they didn’t say ‘no’ to that slice of cake for fear of upsetting the other person’s feelings. I say, if you have a severe intolerance, Coeliac Disease, or anaphylaxis, get used to rubbing people the wrong way socially! It’s going to happen. It’s honestly better that you upset someone else rather than upset your system. The other person gets a bit uppity for a few minutes or hours because you refused their food. You’re going to be more than uppity for days or weeks! Bring your own food, have regular ‘picnics’. Ask a lot of questions about the menu and the kitchen at the restaurant. Take the time to explain your allergy or food intolerance to someone. Not everyone will understand. You will come across plenty of eyeball rolling and ‘nodding and smiling’ when you explain, but not only is it good for your confrontation management to tell people about your problems, it can also spread helpful information about food intolerances and allergies – so more people will understand about these issues.

WHAT TO DO?

If you have an intolerance and it is causing a problem for you that you do not like (eg eczema, bloating, diarrhoea etc), then it is up to you to avoid the irritant. If you really like the food – but it doesn’t like you – then you might need to practice using your willpower a bit more! If it’s literally making you sick, then that should be easier to avoid. Sometimes not having the food in the house can mean that it’s a lot easier to avoid, or you only come into contact with it when you eat out. Sometimes that can be a better way to avoid irritants and it makes your home much ‘safer’ for your body.
If you have only a minor intolerance, you probably don’t need to do too much, just don’t have that food for breakfast, lunch and dinner! If you have a mild intolerance, you probably need to mind how much you eat that food (maybe only when you eat out, perhaps, or on special occasions?). If your tolerance level is almost zero for a certain food then you really need to avoid that food.
It’s time to address what you thought were just ‘minor’ issues and realise that they may not be so minor after all. Certain foods could be playing havoc with your moods, your relationships, your self-esteem, your weight, your hormones and your whole life. So please be patient with your body while you make these changes. Perhaps keep a diary and write down your changes. If you can rid your body of its severe food intolerances and manage the mild intolerances, you’re well on your way to being the best you can be!
And as always, if you have any questions about food intolerances, allergies or gluten, please feel free to speak with Dr Robyn - or even Lauren at the front desk! We have so much knowledge on this front and we are happy to help you.