Tracking Down Food Allergies
Is it Gluten, Dairy or something else?
I've never really been a fussy eater which I suppose comes from growing up in a fairly poor household where a regular evening meal was fried eggs and chips, accompanied by sliced white bread and plenty of butter.
In order to spice that up a little I'd always have a good splash of Heinz Tomato Ketchup which in turn became a constant addition to every one of my meals. Yes, even the traditional Sunday Roast would have me pouring ketchup on the roasted potatoes; delicious! My early years at home were not graced with any sort of "fancy food", I think the most exotic sounding meal would be "Long Spaghetti" served with grated cheddar cheese and tomato ketchup. A sort of poor mans Spaghetti Bolognese.
Through my early teenage years, there was a regular seafood van that came to the local pub carpark on Friday or Saturday evening. They would sell "Pints" of various shell fish like Prawns or Shrimp, Cockles, Mussels, and Jellied Eals. We would sit for ages picking through prawns, pulling them apart to eat the sweet flesh inside, discarding the head, shell, legs and tail. The cockles would be attacked with a pin to first pull out the eye and then tease out the salty body; while winkles would be dowsed in Sarson's malt vinegar and consumed one or two at a time.
It might seem strange then, that I developed a slightly odd way of deciding if I would eat a food item or not. My process of deciding goes something like this. If I don't like the sound of the dish, I'd choose something else, If the look of it turned me off, I'd refuse it, then there is the smell of the food, if that was not right it's not going anywhere near my mouth.
If a food dish passes all the previous tests and then I taste it, it had better be good or that's it, the food would go back to the kitchen and I'd be looking for something more plain, or with ketchup on it; something like a burger.
There are somethings that have made it past all of the tests though. I did once each Frogs Legs in Garlic at a South London based Tapas Bar. I can say that I really should have listened to my decision process. The sound of frogs legs does nothing to entice to to order such a dish but I was with a group of business associates, my manager included, and would have been thought less of if I'd not at least tried the dish. Luckily the prevailing taste was of garlic with the texture of something akin to chicken. I ate my share of the dish and moved on but I cannot say that I would ever order these again.
More recently, I have been suffering for the occasional, but debilitating stomach pains, accompanied by a fever, muscle and joint pains lasting for about three to five days.
The symptoms seemed to be very similar to those described to me by people who are Coeliac or have an allergy to Gluten. This lead me to assume that I was Gluten Intolerant or on the lighter end of being coeliac. I did a bit of research and found that cutting out gluten was going to be a bit of a challenge but could start off by just removing bread from my diet. A bread free diet seemed to be "doing the trick" and I generally felt so much better.
Essentially, I had fallen into a trap that bread was the culprit for my pain and suffering. That was until, having cooked up a mixed vegetable stir fry, we added for "Ready to Wok" noodles. These noodles were a different brand to the usual and were marked up, loud and proud as WHEAT NOODLES.
The following 5 days saw me with another session of very bad stomach pains all night, frequent visits to the toilet, feeling very nauseous and generally dehydrating at a massive rate, so much so that I became delirious at one point, having full conversations with myself about who knows what.
Looking at the food I'd eaten that day and narrowing things down I was now convinced that I was Gluten Intolerant at least and potentially Coeliac. It's hard to fully diagnose Coeliac's disease and the fact that we travel extensively meant that we were not able to consult our usual GP for help. I decided that I'd go for a fully gluten free diet and be VERY careful about what I was eating. Limiting myself to fresh vegetables, beef, chicken and pork and switching my breakfast of choice from eggs on toast to gluten free corn flakes, coconut milk and a sliced banana. It's really surprising how good that breakfast is!
Tracking Down Food intolerance
I use Facebook quite a lot and see a great many adverts for all sorts of things that I usually ignore. The advert that was quite interesting was the one for the Intolerance Lab a UK based food and non-food intolerance checking service. I was interested enough to read up about the service and look at some reviews abut the service and found that many people had been helped by them and were able to lead a more comfortable and healthier life after following the advice from the test they provide.
The test is based on hair samples which are tested at a molecular level in their laboratory. Sending a minimum of 10 samples of hair each at least 2 inches long is all that is required once you have ordered the test. There is a simple set of details to send them. Things like name, age, email address (they email the results back) and of course the hair samples in a sealed food bag so as to avoid any in transit contamination.
The Intolerance Test Results
At first reading of the results of the test they had performed on my hair samples I was a little confused as to how to interpret the results. A simple list of main food items on the left, followed by a further more details list, and then a third column with a percentage.
The top result, "Yeast" was explained further with the centre column which read "Avoid Processed meats, Aged cheese, Dried fruits, Gravy/stock cubes, Processed fruit juice, Condiments, Vinegar, Alcohol (brewer’s yeast), Baked goods, Yeast extract". Column three stated 100%.
Clearly this was something to focus on as it seems that I am 100% intolerant of Yeast and that I should at least avoid the foods in the centre column.
Reading the centre column, it felt like they had looked into my soul and picked out ALL of my favourute foods.
ever since my early childhood I’ve suffered with a skin condition which could be most easily described as eczema. Focused behind my ears and on my scalp (dandruff), it was a real problem for me and especially the flaking scalp during secondary school which attracted much attention and making fun of me. A typical comment was “has it been snowing” and although quite hurtful, I was not the only person to have the dandruff issue.
Frequent use of the anti-dandruff shampoo “Vosene” did not make much difference, and various ointments made no difference to my cracking and crusty skin problem behind my ears. At times I could have sworn my ears was about to fall off, so bad was the skin condition.
As I grew older the issues abated but did not go away completely. At about 16 years old, I visited my GP, who promptly prescribed an antidepressant for my skin problems. I did not even bother to get that prescription filled and I think it was probably at that point that I lost all respect and confidence in GP.
Now I’m in my early sixties I still have the skin problems and still have a scepticism of GPs diagnoses. I question everything and do a massive amount of research on any medical condition I have. The doctors and consultants have failed to identify the cause of my skin condition which flares up now and again. They’ve prescribed “Betamethazone” in various forms for my scalp and other areas of my body.
Am I Allergic?
Some years ago, I was convinced that I had some sort of allergy, as I had a sort of “anaphylaxis” which was not bad but did result in swollen tongue and lips and made me very drowsy. Visiting the GP resulted in the usual “brush off” but with my persistence and a worsening visibly skin condition the GP agreed to refer me to a skin specialist / Consultant.
after two examinations and much discussion the consultant insisted that I am not allergic to anything and that I would need to use ointments and creams for the rest of my life.
Even though the doctors have ruled out allergy I am still convinced through my own random testing that I have some sort of sensitivity that causes the skin conditions.
Recently I have been drawn towards feeling that I have at least an intolerance to Gluten if not fully coeliac so was not surprised that for a second time in a month I was subjected to all the worst symptoms of coeliac disease.
I pinned this on the rarely eaten Wheat Noodles and was then quite sure that gluten was at the root of my stomach problems. With a few members if my extended family being diagnosed at coeliac sufferers and knowing a little about their symptoms I surmised that I could be coeliac but more likely gluten intolerant.
With this self diagnosis in mind I was happy to pay the £40 for the Intolerance Lab to test my hair samples and, I was sure, that they return a confirmation of gluten being the problem.
Having the results and seeing what they'd discovered about my food and none food intolerances, it's no real surprise to me that yeast is the main culprit.
Yeast of course is one if the star ingredients in bread and in beer which are two things that factor quite large in my now previous diet. Add to that the Yeast Extract or Marmite that features on the list it's a good thing that I have had the intolerance test done.
Cutting Things Out
Although it’s been challenging to cut out all of the foods on the intolerance and avoid lists I am making significant progress in that I now do not eat bread apart from maybe one small slice a week on average, I've cut beer our completely which was easier to do than cutting out bread and I'm almost off the tomato ketchup which I am convinced is more addictive that cocaine!
I'm a couple of weeks into cutting out the relevant foods and am feeling less ”clogged up” and have been feeling generally better. I remain sceptical about this at the moment and will keep on the current track for at least three months. They advise to remove the avoid foods for three months and then reintroduce them one at a time to measure the effects if any.
I'm really hoping that I can reintroduce things like vinegar and pickles in three months time with no ill effects.