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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 24-Jul-17 11:29:32

Q&A with Jane Clarke on food and allergies

Do you suffer from an allergy? Do you have grandchildren with a food allergy or intolerance - and is there a difference between the two? Nutritionist Jane Clarke tells us about her personal experience with allergies and emphasises just how dangerous a lack of knowledge could be.

Jane will be answering your questions about allergies, food and nutrition in our in-depth Q&A. Add yours to the thread below by 12 noon on 14 August and we'll send them across for her to answer. You can find out more about Jane on her website

Jane Clarke

Food and allergies Q&A

Posted on: Mon 24-Jul-17 11:29:32


Lead photo

Ask Jane your questions about food allergies and intolerance

A couple of weeks ago, I went into anaphylactic shock after I’d eaten a piece of mackerel. My throat and lips began to swell, my heart began racing and, as I’d foolishly forgotten to pack my Epipen (blame it on the morning rush), I couldn’t administer myself with an adrenaline shot to relieve my symptoms. Instead, I had to dash to the nearest pharmacy and beg to be sold an Epipen. Actually it was the second pharmacy I visited; the first refused to give me one, despite me explaining that I’d once gone into cardiac arrest due to my allergy. It was a frightening experience, and one that made me aware of just how quickly it could have turned into a life-or-death situation.

The reason I’m sharing it with you is that cases of food allergy are increasing and they can happen at any time of life. You may have developed a reaction to certain foods, or you may care for a grandchild who has a food allergy or intolerance (I’ll explain the difference between these later), and it’s important to know what to do in an emergency.

According to latest figures from the NHS, there were more than 25,000 hospital admissions for allergies in England in 2015/16 (up 36 per cent on 2011/12 figures). There was also a rise in admissions for anaphylactic shock, with 4,451 going to hospital for this extreme reaction in 2015/16.

I’m not even allergic to mackerel – salmon and tuna are my fishy triggers, but my meal must have been prepared alongside these in the café’s kitchen. I’m also allergic to melon and strawberries and had taken the precaution of alerting the waiter before I ordered. I come from an atopic family (which means we’re rife with allergies and reactions, including hay fever, asthma and eczema) but I didn’t have a problem until the age of 30.

I’d just finished writing my first book and had come down with glandular fever. Mackerel, strawberries and melon are delicious, nutrition-packed foods, so I ate a lot of them to help me recover from my illness. Unfortunately, my compromised immune system started to react to them and they became ‘trigger foods’ that now spark an anaphylactic response in my body. No surprise, they’re now off the menu for me.

It was a frightening experience, and one that made me aware of just how quickly it could have turned into a life-or-death situation.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis is a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction. It can hit within seconds or hours after eating or even touching the offending food. In anaphylaxis the body produces massive amounts of histamines and other chemicals, which cause the blood vessels to swell and the blood pressure to drop. The lips and throat can swell, which can cause problems with breathing and talking. The heart can start racing, hives and rashes can appear, and you can start wheezing. Lowering blood pressure can make you feel weak and even collapse.

Allergy or intolerance?

Allergies are driven by the immune system. Cells in the skin, nose, eyes, mouth, throat, stomach and gut become sensitised to an allergen and respond by releasing antibodies, including histamine, when in contact with it. A reaction happens instantly and usually responds quickly to treatment. People with an inherited tendency to allergy are called atopic and are more prone to asthma, eczema and hay fever.

Food intolerance is a hypersensitive reaction to a food by the body. Because they don’t involve the immune system, intolerances are not defined as allergies. They often occur when the body is unable to process a certain food element, such as gluten or lactose. Symptoms tend to affect the gut and include bloating, wind and cramps and although they can be severe, they’re not life threatening. A reaction may not happen immediately and may last for hours or even days.

What to do if you if you have a reaction to food

1. Don’t ignore even a mild reaction to a food as your response may be more severe next time. Seek advice from your GP who can arrange for tests. It’s also worth keeping a food and symptom diary so you can record what you’ve eaten and any symptoms.

2. Avoid problem foods – check food labels, tell friends, family and anyone else cooking for you, and inform staff in restaurants.

3. If you have been prescribed an Epipen, always carry it with you and administer it at the first sign of a reaction. Your doctor will advise on this.

4. Make sure you have a Food Allergy Care Plan so that you and others know what to do in the event of a reaction. You may want to wear a medical ID bracelet to alert others of your food allergy.

5. If you have a severe reaction, go to the doctor or A&E for follow-up treatment.

If you are looking after someone with a food allergy or intolerance

1. Ask if they have a Food Allergy Care Plan (see above) and be sure you know what to do if they have a reaction.

2. As a grandparent, you may want to keep hold of a spare Epipen (if prescribed for your grandchild) in case of emergencies.

3. For more information about children and allergies, do take a look at my website.

Send me your questions about allergies, food, nutrition and eating well as I’ll be answering your queries in a special Q&A session.

By Jane Clarke

Twitter: @NourishByJane

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 13:56:13


Hi Jane

A bit of an odd one for you here;

I love humus but I seem to be terribly allergic to it. Whenever I eat it (within seconds) my tongue breaks out in painful red lumps and my tongue swells up. Once I stop eating and have a cool drink the breakout settles down and within an hour or two it is as though it never happened. I know I am silly and should just accept that there is something in humus that doesn't agree with me but as I said I do like it very much. I wonder if it could be the chickpeas that I am allergic to? I eat garlic, olive oil etc. in plenty other dishes and it doesn't effect me.

Dear gillygob, I don’t think you’re silly at all! Allergic reactions to any food can make you feel lousy at best and as you will have read in my latest Gransnet blog, can be life threatening. You’re completely right to question what it is in hummus that could be causing the issue. It could be the tahini, which is a sesame-seed paste, as seeds can be a very common allergen, but it could also be the oil used in the hummus. You could try making your own, hummus-like spread without adding the tahini – take the chickpeas and garlic, then just use olive oil and some natural yoghurt to make it all creamy. Try a small amount to see if you react to it, then experiment with different variations. Or make a salad with chickpeas and see if they are the culprits. You could use butter beans as an alternative to make a hummus-like spread, or try my recipe for broad bean and carrot hummus. As your reaction seems quite severe, you may like to discuss with your doctor if you should carry an Epipen around with you.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 13:57:37


Both my son and 6yo grandson (his nephew - my son calls him his 'food tester!') have an allergy to peanuts. I look after my grandson occasionally and he always has a bag with an Epipen. It's not had to be used to date, only anti-histamine. I am a little nervous of having to administer the Epipen so my question is really how to do it and can it be injected anywhere on his arm? And I presume I'd only need to do this if the allergic reaction gets worse after giving him anti-histamine?

Dear cangran, I hope you don’t have to use the Epipen, but if you do it is very easy to administer. The instructions on the side show you exactly how, but I have always found that introducing it in the thigh muscle is easiest and I don’t need to remove any clothes – I just put it against the leg and then follow the instructions. Do check that the Epipen is in date. You might like to talk to any of your grandson’s relatives who have had to administer it, to see how he reacted and which site he prefers.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 13:58:44


My family are allergic to fish/seafood/shellfish etc., like the OP. I had an intolerance, but was able to have de-sensitising injections - it was a real palaver, but i am able to eat fish/seafood,etc.
I also have an allergice [though not anaphylactic] reaction to any perfumes in skin preparations - make-up, soap, shampoo... makes life a little complicated, but I manage it well.
Are people more allergic these days, or are they more aware of them?

Hi grandMattie. I’m sorry that your family is so affected by allergies but it’s good news that you are finding effective remedies and managing your own symptoms so well. In answer to your question, the charity Allergy UK reports that the number of people affected by allergies is indeed increasing around the globe. Current figures show that 30-35 per cent of people will be affected by allergy at some stage of their lives. The pattern of allergy is also changing. Initial increases were in asthma and hay fever but now recent studies have shown a significant increase in the number of people with food allergies, particularly among children. In the UK, up to 50 per cent of children are diagnosed with an allergic condition.

There are a number of theories about why allergy incidence is rising. The first is genetics – children born into families with allergies have a higher risk. There’s also the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that our use of anti-microbial cleaners, etc, reduces our exposure to micro-organisms and develops a tendency to allergy. What we eat has changed, with more processed food, fewer fruits and vegetables and reduced nutrients – there are studies looking at how a lack of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids may contribute to development of allergy. Pollution and other environmental factors may also be implicated in allergies, although there isn’t definitive research on this yet. One exciting area of research is epigenetics, which is looking at how the factors above may regulate gene behavior to develop allergic-type immune systems. By understanding this, we may find new strategies to prevent allergy in the future.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 14:00:01


I have an intolerance to garlic. Very slimming. Bloat up and throw up! And these days it's in EVERYTHING! Eating out is becoming so difficult. Luckily I'm fine with onions - but this makes people think I'm telling porkies as they're the same family. I wonder if it's because the garlic used and sold is foreign and stronger?

I've been experimenting with Ransomes (wild garlic) and am fine with the flowers, leaves and stems. (The flowers are delicious.). Best Beloved is going to slip a little bit of a bulb into my dinner when I don't know it's coming - but hasn't dared yet!

Hi NfkDumpling. I’m glad your beloved hasn’t dared sneak some into your dinner, as the symptoms are, as you say, horrid. And whilst it can be a way to lose weight, we agree it’s far from ideal! There is a real fashion for garlic in foods, as I suspect that it is being used to add depth to dishes as food companies crack down on using salt as a flavour enhancer. I’m glad you’ve had some success with wild garlic, as it is delicious and patients of mine have similarly found that they’re okay with it. If you can’t garlic, and as an alternative to salt, add lemon or lime juice to add extra flavour to dishes. Or chop and freeze fresh herbs in ice cube trays, ready to be popped into food during cooking. It’s a handy way to preserve them, as bunches of fresh herbs can easily go to waste.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 14:01:03


It's interesting that you ate a lot of mackerel, strawberries and melon and then developed an allergy to them, Jane. I became sensitive to wheat (although not gluten) and lactose 15 years ago when my life was incredibly stressful and I realise that wheat and dairy products were in practically everything I ate at that time.

I have occasionally tried eating food with wheat or dairy products in since then and now feel that the symptoms they caused are negligible, so am cautiously reintroducing them to my diet. I am far less stressed now too. My question is, is it usual for sensitivities to subside over time? Also, do you think that stress is a factor with food sensitivities?

Hi Thirdinline, thank you for your question. Although the academic jury is out as to whether stress has a direct impact on food sensitivities, my clinical and personal experience suggest that it has. There is a condition called leaky gut syndrome that is impacted by stress. Leaky gut syndrome increases the quantity of food allergen or molecule you’re intolerant to, which then causes and explains why you experience greater symptoms when you’re stressed. Interestingly, I’ve found with my patients that their symptoms can be worse when they’re overtired. It could mean that we need to be particularly careful about eating foods we’re sensitive to at times when we know we’re not at our best. I find that it’s best if I avoid certain foods on a Friday evening, at the end of a busy week!

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 14:01:55


A friend said her mum greatly improved her arthritis symptoms after having a food intolerance test and altering her diet. We were sceptical but now DH has osteo arthritis and needs knee replacement. Cld getting tested help improve his symptoms during the 6 month wait for the op? And maybe stop other joints getting affected. Can you recommend where/how to get a genuine test done pls?

Hi Tennisnan. There is a great deal of scepticism over laboratories that claim to test, so the best way would be to ask your GP to refer him to an allergist. The GP may also do intolerance blood tests, which are far more accurate than hair analysis tests. At home, he may want to keep a detailed food and symptom diary to see if specific foods aggravate his symptoms. If he notes what foods he eats and when, and how his joints feel in the hours after, he may be able to build up a clearer picture of which foods to limit to reduce joint pain.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 14:03:21


Our youngest grandson has allergies to egg, fish, all seeds, and coconut. Even though he is only 4 he copes well even when his skin erupts with eczema.

We have details of his medication but I worry I will gave to use his epipen one day.

So here are my questions

1. Is an epipen easy to use on a child, any tips please?
2. Do children usually grow out of allergies ?


Dear Nankate, I’m going to answer your second question first. Many children do grow out of allergies, so fingers crossed your grandson is one of the lucky ones. Be reassured in the meantime that using an epipen is easy. It is painless as the mechanism is so efficient (the needles are very fine) – please see my reply to cangran, above, for some tips. I’ve had to use epipens on young patients many times and once you’ve got over the fear, and you’re in the situation where you just have to do it, you’ll manage perfectly, I’m sure.

JaneClarke Wed 23-Aug-17 14:04:23


When sudden-onset dairy/lactose intolerance follows a bout of diverticulitis is it likely to be permanent?
When attempting to gradually re-introduce dairy items which foods would you recommend that are least likely to cause problems?
Thank you!

Hi JoyBloggs, it is very likely that you will be able to tolerate dairy and lactose once the gut is in less trauma. I suggest trying a small amount of mature cheese, such as Parmesan shavings on a salad, and see how you get on. If you feel fine, on another day try some natural yoghurt and, again, assess how you feel. It’s often a glass of milk that’s most difficult to digest and tolerate, so this is perhaps the last thing to try. Remember that quantity has an impact just as much as the actual food, so small quantities, at infrequent intervals and keeping a detailed diary will help you navigate your way through the re-introductions. If symptoms flare up, step back and wait a few days before trying again, but hopefully you should soon be able to tolerate dairy and lactose with no issue.

BBbevan Thu 24-Aug-17 16:53:49

My DH has the noisiest, gurgliest stomach I have ever heard . We have never found anything he may be intolerant to. He has been a little better since I began a LCHF diet for diabetes. He has joined in mostly. Any suggestion as to the reason for the drain like noise and what might be the reason?

JoyBloggs Thu 24-Aug-17 20:14:21

Thank you, Jane, for taking the trouble to write such a detailed response. Much appreciated and very encouraging!

Mauriherb Thu 31-Aug-17 14:40:26

I have always been very allergic to nuts. I'm glad that these days it is taken seriously as when I was younger it was much less common and I think sometimes people didn't even believe me!! I have also discovered that I am allergic to mango, I probably always have been but they weren't available in this country then ! This one is annoying as I've always loved fruit salad but these days dare not have one.

Blossomsmum Fri 01-Sep-17 11:09:46

Hi ,
I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which means that a faulty gene makes the collegen in my body faulty.
I develop food intolerance to things that I have always eaten that suddenly trigger my IBS. And I also get hay fever like symptoms. The latest is tuna. Before that it was eggs but the strange thing is that when a new intolerance sets in it seems to "cure " the previous one and I can now eat eggs again . Some Other but not all EDS sufferers experience the same thing Any idea why our bodies react in this way ?