Food Allergies and Intolerances

The Difference Between Allergies and Intolerances

The symptoms of both conditions may be very similar and can even confuse the experts, as both cause unpleasant symptoms and inflammation!

Generally food allergies are triggered by a protein and cause the body’s immune system to over react – with serious systemic symptoms (maybe life threatening).

Food intolerances generally only affect the digestive tract and are less severe than allergies.  They are caused by –

  1. absence of an enzyme
  2. psychological stress
  3. IBS
  4. Sensitivity to food additives
  5. Inflammation of gut when exposed to gluten

Common Foods Causing Allergies

  • Milk (and dairy produce) – mainly seen in children
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

Common Foods Causing Intolerances

  • Dairy – usually caused by a sugar called lactose
  • Gluten – a protein found in many grains, especially wheat, barley. Gluten intolerance may present as Coeliac Disease or the less severe Non Coeliac Gluten Intolerance.
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Dealing with Allergies and Intolerances

Allergies –

  • Total avoidance of allergen
  • Desensitisation via oral immunotherapy
  • Anti histamines (mild to moderate reactions)
  • Adrenaline injections (severe reactions)

Intolerances –

  • Remove or reduce consumption of foods causing symptoms – an exclusion diet may be required to identify the culprits
  • Improve gut health generally via dietary changes and improving gut flora
  • Treat chronic gut infections eg H Pylori or candida
  • Add supplements to diet – especially Glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine (NAG), Quercetin, Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) and pre/probiotics.

Could I Have Leaky Gut Syndrome?

Up until recently the concept of leaky gut syndrome was dismissed by most in mainstream medicine.

The intestinal lining is made up of enterocytes and interspersed with immune cells.  These enterocytes form “tight junctions” and only allow certain items to pass in and out of the gut, such as simple sugars, fatty acids and amino acids.  However, when this barrier gets worn down and develops more and more microscopic holes, it allows other compounds to “leak” through, causing your health to suffer.

It is now thought that the bacteria in your gut (your microbiome or gut flora) tell the immune cells in the lining of the intestine what can be let through the gut wall.

If too many unpleasant molecules “leak” through the gut wall, the body’s inflammatory response is raised and a state of chronic inflammation occurs.

Many researchers advise to avoid “industrial” ultra processed foods that cause damage to the gut wall in the first place, increase our vegetable/fibre intake, use more plant oils and generally have a high quality diet.  Again pre and probiotic supplements may help.

The Importance of Strength Training

Whilst fitness disciples (and the media) often focus on cardiovascular training (eg cycling, running etc.), numerous studies have shown the importance of developing and maintaining strength for quality of life, longevity and avoiding chronic disease.

Some researchers even suggest that strength training is similar to saving into a pension, as when we get older the lean muscle mass we have built will protect us from chronic illness and frailty that often accompanies aging.

The development of muscular strength and endurance has been linked to reduced risk of CV disease, dementia, diabetes/metabolic syndrome and even cancer (the four great threats as we age).

By building muscle mass and strength we improve metabolism and reduce inflammation in the body.  Strength training is also a very effective way of managing weight.

There is increasing evidence that we should focus on the following elements in our strength workouts –

  • Grip Strength

Any exercises that work the upper limb up to and including the shoulder and upper back are useful, eg bicep curls, push ups

  • Balancing both Concentric and Eccentric movements in our workouts

Concentric exercise – movements where the muscle shortens as it contracts (lifting a weight).  Eccentric exercise – movements where the muscle lengthens as it contracts (putting a weight down).

  • Pulling Exercises

Exercises could include rowing, pull ups, deadlift and clean

  • Hip Hinging Exercises

These are often whole body exercises and include deadlifts, squats and lunges

The Real Causes of Aging and What We Can Do About It

There is a lot of research and scientific effort going on at the moment into understanding aging and the consequences of aging.  Most of this research is NOT concerned with extending lifespan but increasing our healthspan – that is reducing the length of time in later life when many people become chronically ill or frail.

The two biggest factors in aging would now appear to be –

  1. Cell senescence
  2. mTOR

Cell Senescence

After cells have replicated (divided) a number of times, they should die through a process known as apoptosis whereby they die.  However some cells don’t die but go into a twilight state – still alive but not dividing, what the press have called “zombie” cells.  However these cells can secrete toxic chemicals which have been linked to many diseases of old age.  The chemicals produced by “zombie” cells are highly inflammatory.

The more senescent cells we have, the older we become.


mTOR is a protein complex found in most cells and it’s role appears to be to allow the body to manage periods of starvation.  With mTOR switched on our body enters “growth mode” and cells are instructed to grow and divide ie we age.  The key to slowing aging may be to regularly “switch off” the mTOR complexes found in our cells

Slowing Aging – What We Can Do

  1. Diet 1 – Limit calorie intake, possibly have 1 or 2 limited fasts per week
  2. Diet 2 – Increase the amount of wholegrains, nuts, seeds, oily fish, complex carbs, vegetable protein, limited dairy and no red meat (red meat contains methionine). Have no ultra processed foods or simple sugars
  3. Diet 3 – Vitamin D3 strengthens the immune system and pre/probiotics for the gut can be helpful
  4. Work at losing central fats (abdominal fat) – abdominal fat cells secrete highly toxic inflammatory chemicals. As well as good diet, learn to relax (cortisol is a big factor in the accumulation of belly fat aka “stress belly”) and ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
  5. Keep your brain young by keeping moving. Learn new skills or hobbies – music and language learning seem to be particularly helpful in building “cognitive reserve” to help guard against mental decline.
  6. Take part in strength training 2 or 3 times per week as well as cardio vascular exercise 3 to 5 times per week. Think about taking up High Intensity Interval Training – 15 minutes per day for 3 to 5 days per week has been shown to be highly effective.

Mindfulness and Yoga

In Yoga it is said that the nature of the mind is to become focussed on certain thoughts, desires and aversions.  This leads to samskaras forming in the individual mind.  This invariably leads to mental pain and distress.

What is Mindfulness –

“Paying attention on purpose to the present moment, without judgement”

Jon Kabat Zinn

MINDLESSNESS PRECLUDES OUR EXPERIENCING OF OTHER THINGS AND IS IMPOVERISHING.  Over time knots of fear (granthis) develop because of this narrow focus of our attention and the mind wishing to stay within it’s habitual ways.  The end result is Dukha or pain.

10% of nerve impulses are from brain to body – 90% are from body to brain.  With mindfulness we can experience this other 90% of experience.  Mindfulness also allows us to consciously choose rather than reacting to events.

Mindfulness can be practiced when –

  • Washing/showering
  • Getting dressed
  • Eating
  • Walking
  • Washing up
  • Cleaning house
  • Shopping

Applying Mindfulness to Yoga

Follow any standard Yoga practice you like, however focus on –

  • Breath – inhale entering (deepening) in posture and exhale when coming out of posture.
  • Watch for physical sensations of tension and relaxation in the body.
  • Watch for the upwelling of emotions during practice, especially ANGER, IMPATIENCE and BOREDOM.
  • When mind wanders from practice – REMEMBER YOURSELF – draw back and focus.

Metabolic Flexibility

We are often told a “calorie is a calorie” and the way to get fit and lose weight is by controlling our calorie (or energy) intake.

General advice is that men need about 2500 KCal per day and women about 2000 KCal per day – however these guidelines are anything but scientific – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established these figures from self reported daily consumption levels in the 1990s and measured these against fluctuations in (self reported) weight.

To get back to the science, the body only uses carbohydrates and (to a lesser degree) fat to fuel the body (or metabolism).  Protein is only used in extreme situations to be burnt in metabolism – it’s main function being repair and renewal of cells and structures.

It has been seen that the healthiest of people have the ability to change quickly from burning carbohydrates to fats when sugars are exhausted.  This is called metabolic flexibility and is associated with correct weight maintenance, reduced risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke and even dementia and cancer

On the other hand, the most unhealthy people tend to only burn carbs all day and suffer from numerous co-morbidities.  They have to consume large amounts of carbohydrates just to keep going.

So how can we become more metabolically fit and flexible.  Well initial studies seem to indicate that –

  • Fasting may help – either one or two fasts per week OR fasting “windows” where we only eat for 8 to 10 hours per day.
  • Reducing carbohydrates in our diet and replacing it with quality fats and proteins can work
  • High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) often “shocks” the body into fat burning
  • Cold therapy can speed up metabolism, activates brown fat stores and therapeutically stress the body so it begins to use fats for energy.

Really Want to Lose Weight this Year?

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight and become more healthy.  Yet every year more and more people become overweight or obese (in 2021 the % of overweight or obese adults in England and Wales was a massive 67%).

There is a huge amount of data of the illnesses linked to being overweight – estimates suggest that up to 40% of chronic illnesses are linked to an unhealthy weight.

So with so much dietary advice around what is the science on losing weight?  Well from the data we currently have we can say the following with some certainty –

  1. Eat real food – if you don’t recognise a food ingredient on a label, don’t buy it (this includes Vegan foods).  Try to cook with fresh ingredients.  As a general rule have MORE protein and fat and LESS carbohydrates.
  2. Eggs are a complete food, try to have some in your diet.
  3. Eat a largely plant based diet (60% – 80% of your daily calorific intake).
  4. Where possible swap fish for meat (especially oily fish) which has a plentiful supply of Omega 3 and reduces heart and brain inflammation.
  5. Fermented dairy products are fine – cheese and yoghurt – go easy on milk, butter and cream
  6. Fats are not “the enemy”, simple sugars are!  Cold pressed plant oils (especially Olive oil) suppress inflammatory compounds being produced such as insulin, M-Tor and IGF1.
  7. Use “Eating Windows“, ie only allow yourself to eat during a specific time band in the day.   The best “Eating Windows” appear to be 12 and 10 hour slots eg 8am to 8pm or 8am to 6pm
  8. Eating late at night will pile on the pounds and insulin sensitivity is lower in the evenings, so calories consumed tend to end up as visceral fats stored by the body.  M-Tor and IGF1 are both stimulated by constant eating with a break, these chemicals put the body in permanent “growth mode” and encourage inflammation in the body.  If possible avoid eating after 8pm.
  9. Fast – if you don’t have a medical condition, fasting not only encourages weight loss but slows down the ageing process.  Indeed well planned fasts can control and even cure a number of chronic diseases.   Most healthy adults can manage a one or two day fast (if in doubt always consult your doctor).  During fasting cellular cleaning (autophagy) and programmed cell death (apoptosis) rapidly increase.
  10. Enjoy your food and don’t rush eating or eat on the go.
  11. Be active during the day – try not to sit down for more than 20 minutes at a time.  Walk when possible.
  12. Strength building exercises (2 or 3 times per week) eg core work or weights, increase lean muscle mass – muscles are one of the biggest burners of calories in the body particularly simple sugars.  Cardio exercise is important for the circulation, heart and brain – try to become breathless with cardio exercise 3 to 5 times per week.

Balance and Health

The majority of people – including the inactive, active and very fit – tend to define balance as the ability to “not fall over”.

However balance is much more than not falling and lack of it can negatively affect a number of major bodily systems.  It is also connected with increased risk of a number of health conditions including diabetes, osteoporosis, neurological ailments, cardiovascular diseases and even dementia.  Poor balance is also linked to poor athletic performance by way of reduced motor control, strength and power.

Simple put balance is defined as the ability to distribute your body weight within your “base of support” (the area in contact with the ground).  Balance also varies between fixed posture balance and moving balance – both are important.  The point to remember is that balance is complex and depends on the synergy of many body systems.

At the most obvious level good balance will reduce the risk of falling (it is estimated that for all falls of the over 75 year olds where the hip is fractured, 37% will die within a year of the fall and only 20% will make a full recover).

However by taking steps we need to address balance issues, we are also working to strengthen the muscular system, improving cardio function, respiratory health and surprisingly neurological health.  As our balance improves so do a number of our body systems.  Remember balance work and core work are synonymous, so balance work is also very toning.

Some Basic Principles for Improving Balance

Practice everyday

Start with static/non moving balance exercises until you are confident – then move to dynamic exercises

Slowly begin to work on more challenging surfaces eg uneven ground, beaches, going uphill/downhill

Work to strengthen the calves (esp outer calves) thighs, gluteal and core muscles

4 Simple Balance Exercises

  • Simple Leg Lifts – lift one knee at a time to hip (lower if this is difficult) and hold for up to 1 minutes
  • Standing Heel Lifts – lift both heels off the ground slowly and descend with control (for extra difficulty extend the arms overhead as well)
  • Step Ups – using a bench, box or low wall, step up with one leg and lift the other leg to knee height. Repeat several times on each side
  • Walking Lunge – start from upright and step one leg out bending both the front and back knee to 90 – push back to stand and repeat several times. When confident practice walking forward/backwards by lunging

Yoga for Hayfever and Sinusitis

We all look forward to the warmth and longer days of Summer.  However for some people Summer can be a real challenge with hayfever and/or sinusitis.

Well Yoga has a cure (possibly) in the form of Kapalabhati kriya.  This brilliant technique helps to clean the cranial and facial airways and leaves the practitioner energised.

Start slowly and practice every day for best results.

Kapalabhati Practice Sheet

Stretching V Strength in Yoga

Up until recently Yoga was seen purely in terms of flexibility and it’s benefits.

There are 2 questions that are now emerging after recent research –

  1. Is Yoga JUST about stretching and flexibility?
  2. How beneficial is stretching to our mental and physical health?

Besides stretching Yoga has strength work, core work, balance/motor skills, breath work, relaxation and mind control.  Indeed some authors argue that stretching is the least important part of Yoga.  The general public mistakenly often believe Yoga = stretching.

Much recent research points out that reduced mobility is best served working on alignment of joints, strength and muscle balance work. VERY LITTLE “TIGHTNESS” IS THE RESULT OF LACK OF FLEXIBILITY.

Moreover there is little hard evidence that stretching reduces the risk of injuries or even aids rehabilitation after injury.  However subjectivity Yogis consistently report that stretching does help them feel relaxed.

So is stretching is wrong?  If stretching is passive there is little evidence of the positive gains for this, however if the stretching is active (one group of muscles tightening, the opposite group relaxing ) this can lead to a better aligned and stronger body.

The key phrase here then is “strengthen to lengthen”.  Misaligned joints and weaknesses in soft tissue lead to shortening of muscle, tendon and fascia.  Alignment and strength is the way to progress.

The Cold Cure

As a society we have become obsessed with comfort and keep ourselves ourselves in an environment that promotes this.  We have centrally heated homes, hot tubs, air conditioning, cars with temperature control, food constantly available (and delivered to our doors if needed), covered shopping centres, medical care on hand 24 hours a day and all manner of devices to make things easier and more appealing.

All well and good you may say, but there is an increasing evidence that these “comforts” of the 21st century are also leading to a crisis in health with an overweight population, lifestyle illnesses burdening health systems (WHO – estimates that nearly 82% of illness in the modern “developed” world is caused by environmental and behavioural factors) and finally soaring mental health problems.

We are all told that we need to improve our diet and exercise on a regular basis.  But is there anything else we could do, that is quick and easy and fits into our busy lives?

Well yes there is!!  There is increasing evidence that exposure to cold helps to boost the immune system, helps regulate our metabolic health, assists weight loss (by activating Brown Adipose Tissue – BAT), tones up our cardio vascular health and helps us to maintain a more peaceful mindset. Famous proponents of this approach include Wim Hof (aka “the Ice Man”), professional sports players, cold water swimming clubs and lifestyle doctors.

Below I have detailed a brief and simple programme of cold exposure.  This programme is suitable for all – HOWEVER IF YOU HAVE A MEDICAL CONDITION, ESPECIALLY A HEART PROBLEM OR ARE PREGNANT SEEK THE ADVICE OF A MEDICAL PRACTITIONER BEFORE ATTEMPTING.

Simple Cold Programme

  • Start with taking 3 to 5 cold showers per week – start with a warm shower and at the end switch to cold water
  • Increase the number of sessions to 7 days per week
  • Over two or three months attempt to increase the cold duration of the showers by 15 second increments up to 2 minutes per session.
  • If cold water is too shocking, start with cool/tepid water (any water below 16oC has physiological benefits)
  • You will gasp when you start this programme, this mild hyperventilation is normal.  Over the weeks and months this will lessen.
  • Try to relax as much as possible during the cold showers
  • An alternative is to use a cold pack on the upper back (just below the neck) for up to 20 minutes a time