Diet Related Illnesses

Lynsey Keep, RN
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People who are intolerant or allergic to certain foods may suffer from diet related illnesses. These can be as minor as foods that do not agree with them or can render more serious diet-related symptoms that wreak havoc with diet and meal planning.

Allergy and Intolerance to Food

Food allergies are often difficult to diagnose unless exposure is rare and the trigger allergen response is something obvious. Certain foods and food groups can cause allergic responses. Often the specific allergen food must be identified by a lengthy process of elimination, or when a certain food type is suspected an attempt to 'challenge' the food is recommended by exposing the sufferer to large amounts of the food to see if it provokes a reaction. Food allergies take different forms. Symptoms tend to be rashes, gastric disturbance and in severe cases allergic reactions can include respiratory symptoms such as anaphylaxis. Food allergies are best treated by avoidance of the trigger food and anything which may contain traces of it. Intolerance to foods is less serious but many people still suffer as a result. Intolerance to food does not trigger in any way an immune system response and although those with food intolerance do suffer to some degree there are certainly no harmful or dangerous effects in terms of contact with 'trigger' foods.

Diet Related Illnesses: A Life Sentence

Some people develop unpleasant and sometimes unusual symptoms when they eat or are exposed to certain foods or food groups. In such cases the initial thought is that the symptoms are caused by allergy or intolerance and until proven otherwise much needed advice and treatment may be lacking. In some cases diet related illnesses are due to a lack of a certain food. Closer examination is the only way to establish this. The following are some commonly recognized diet related illnesses:

Heart Disease

For some who are unfortunate enough to develop heart disease and its associated problems such as high blood pressure, the cause may be a direct result of heredity. Others, however, suffer the debilitating problems associated with the disease as a direct result of poor dietary intake. Those who opt for a high fat diet will ultimately over time suffer the effects of high cholesterol as a result of poor diet and in many cases associated obesity. The prevention of heart disease is not difficult and requires individuals to pay close attention to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat.

Diabetes too is linked with diet. In particular obesity is a contributor that is caused primarily through over eating of incorrect foods.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients. People who have celiac disease cannot tolerate a protein called gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley. Those who suffer from celiac disease maintain a grueling daily routine being ever wary of food ingredients that are potentially likely to trigger the unpleasant effects of the disease. Primary symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and constipation
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Anemia
  • Failure to thrive (in infants)

These unpleasant symptoms are all due to the body's intestinal structure not being able to accept certain food types. Those with celiac disease devote their lives to avoidance of the trigger foods and struggle with simple pleasures such as eating out due to the uncertainty of contents in pre-prepared foods.

Iron-deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is common, especially in women. According to the 'Mayo Clinic' one in five women and half of all pregnant women are iron deficient. Lack of iron in your diet is one cause of iron deficiency anemia, but there are other causes as well. Eating foods rich in iron is a good way to reduce the problem. Foods high in iron include:

  • Eggs
  • Red meat
  • Oily fish
  • Wholemeal bread and flour
  • Beans and pulses
  • Dried fruit
  • Green vegetables

Although a significant dietary intake incorporating the above foods will undoubtedly help increase iron levels, people with significantly depleted iron levels also benefit from taking iron supplements as a long-term measure.

Headaches and Migraine

Certain foods are known to cause vascular headaches. Migraine sufferers are well aware that the intake of certain foods may exacerbate symptoms. Common foods which may trigger migraines include:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Cheese and other dairy products
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Wheat
  • Alcohol

In cases where migraine may be exacerbated by a specific food it may require a detailed process of elimination to establish the cause.

Don't Suffer in Silence

If you believe that your health is being affected by an element of your diet, it is essential to investigate so the problem food can be promptly removed from your diet. Dietary illness is a complex subject and distinguishing which foods are problems is no easy task. In relation to food allergy there are blood and patch tests which can be performed to identify whether there is a genuine allergy. In some cases these tests isolate the allergy trigger. This testing process is usually a last resort if the elimination process has failed.

Most importantly don't suffer in silence. Diet related illnesses are relatively common. Particularly those who suffer from bowel and gut reactions to food tend to be embarrassed to discuss their 'delicate' symptoms, and in doing so are doomed to suffer the unpleasant symptoms instead of doing anything about them.

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Diet Related Illnesses