We see stories in the news, magazines, and on TV everyday telling us about some of the horrific allergies that result from eating certain types of food. One such food targeted by these stories is wheat. However, while there is indeed such a thing as wheat allergy, this is not a license for you to skip wheat all together when you find yourself showing even the remotest signs of an allergy.
For one thing, true wheat allergy is extremely rare. And other adverse reactions to wheat are also uncommon (0.1%, excluding coelic disease). A number of people today believe that food intolerance to wheat is rising. However, it should be noted that wheat based food often contains a mixture of ingredients, any of which could cause the adverse reactions.
Secondly, there are two terms related with wheat allergy that are clearly misused. These are “food allergy” and “food intolerance.” People often think that the two are interchangeable and mean the same thing, when the truth couldn’t be any farther. The differences between these two conditions are vast.
Food intolerance is rarely life-threatening. It will not trigger the immune system to overreact quite in the same way as in food wheat allergy. However, it may cause symptoms like migraines, bloating or skin rashes, and in some cases, worsen the effects of conditions such as asthma, eczema, or migraines.
On the other hand, a food wheat allergy is largely immunological. It is an abnormal response to a food that is triggered by the immune system and is far more serious in nature. According to the Food Standards Agency, the food allergen is seen as ‘foreign” by the immune system and initiates an immune response and the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE binds to mast cells in the mouth, nose, and gut and causes the release of histamine which is responsible for inflammation and other symptoms of allergic reactions.
Food allergy, like wheat allergy, may produce violent reactions, from swelling of the lips and tongue (oedema) or a red rash to, in extreme cases, fatal anaphylaxis. Additional symptoms of wheat allergy may also include asthma and urticaria, or what is commonly known as hives.
A vast majority of people claiming they have wheat allergy may at worst have only food intolerance. Often, the case is that a person has, at one time, tried to remove a food from his diet, say for example, cheese. And the next time they eat it, they develop a headache, prompting them to believe that they are allergic to it.
The Flour Advisory Bureau commissioned a survey in 2001 showing that more than 40% of women have eliminated specific foods from their diet over the last five years. Health professionals are concerned that fashionable fads like cutting out foods, such as wheat, could put women at risk. Most of the women who admitted eliminating wheat from their diet because of fear that they have wheat allergy had taken no dietary advice whatsoever about making such whole-scale changes to their diet or received no information on how to replace the nutrients they were losing.
The lesson, therefore, is not to immediately jump to conclusions when you have a bad experience with food. When you get a reaction from certain kinds of food, like wheat, be sure to write it down, or keep a food diary.