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Food allergies are more servere, and far less common than food intolerances, affecting only two per cent of the population.
An allergy to any food occurs when the body's immune system reacts to the substance as if it were harmful, causing it to produce antibodies. Food allergies commonly cause specific symptoms that occur within minutes of ingestion but wheat allergy symptoms may occur a few hours after eating.
An allergic reaction to wheat can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including eczema or hives, red and itchy eyes, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, and swelling of the lips, tongue or face.
In very rare cases, a wheat allergy can cause anaphylaxis which is a life-threatening reaction requiring immediate attention.
Unlike an allergy, the symptoms of a food intolerance can occur hours or sometimes days after consumption. Sufferers often experience discomfort in the form of stomach aches, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and wind, while symptoms of headaches, fatigue and general aches and pains have also been reported.
The problem is there is no quick test that can diagnose an intolerance to wheat and, with such a wide variety of symptoms, it is often mistaken for other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. It is possible to undergo a 'food challenge' at a hospital, where you are given a blindfold wheat test and monitored for any symptoms.
An auto-immune disease, where the body's immune system attacks itself, coeliac disease is caused by an intolerance to the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye. For sufferers, just a small amount of gluten can damage the lining of the small intestine, preventing the body from properly absorbing nutrients.
According to the NHS, approximately one in 100 people in the UK are affected, with women two to three times more likely to develop the disease than men. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, weight loss and mouth ulcers.
It can commonly be diagnosed by way of a blood test but your GP may refer you to a gastroenterologist for a gut biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. There is no cure and sufferers must completely cut out gluten from their diet.
A wheat-free existence
You may be well aware that wheat is found in pasta, bread and cereal but wheat flour is often added to more unlikely products such as processed meat, ready meals and even ice cream so it is essential that you read your labels to ensure that you are making the right choice.
Thankfully the number of wheat- and gluten-free products available is increasing - flour alternatives such as maize, rice or potato flour are usually stocked in health food stores and large supermarkets, while millet, buckwheat and quinoa also make for excellent substitutes.
Some supermarkets now stock ready-made wheat- and gluten-free products such as cakes and biscuits too.
If you are in doubt as to how to maintain good health whilst staying wheat free, your doctor or a dietician should be able to help. Alternatively, visit the NHS website for more information.