ACCORDING to new figures, the number of people admitted to hospital in Yorkshire with allergic reactions has risen dramatically over the past few years.

The reasons for this are unclear. Are we becoming more allergic? Or are we better at diagnosing allergies now?

Many of my clients suffer from food allergies and intolerances. These range from severe, dramatic, life-threatening reactions such as anaphylactic shock, to more chronic, non-urgent responses like headaches and skin rashes.

Some key contributing factors to this rise in allergies are the cumulative effects of stress, poor diet, and overuse of antibiotics. All these factors affect the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut which play a key role in regulating and patrolling our immune responses.

There’s a lot of confusion about the terminology ‘allergy’ and ‘intolerance’. Generally speaking, an allergy can kill in minutes whereas an intolerance is unpleasant but not life threatening and may not involve the immune system.

A good example of this is lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose. Normally, lactose molecules are broken down in the small intestine but when this doesn’t happen lactose irritates the lining of the gut, causing cramps, wind, and diarrhoea. Once it has passed through the system, the symptoms calm down. This is one of the easier intolerances to manage because lactose-free dairy products are now widely available, though you do need to be careful when dining out or buying foods that may contain hidden dairy.

Reactions to wheat are one of the most common intolerances I see in clinic. People are often puzzled by this: surely, we should be able to digest wheat considering we’ve been eating it for thousands of years?

Well, yes, humans have been eating wheat for a long time, but not the modern forms of wheat. Over the past 40 years new disease-resistant forms of wheat have been cultivated containing high levels of gluten. Gluten-rich wheat is designed for modern bread making processes, but not human digestion! As a result, many people react to it and suffer symptoms like bloating, pain, fatigue, and depression. They find relief once wheat is cut out and replaced by a variety of other grains and seeds such as quinoa, oats, rice, buckwheat and amaranth.

Sally Duffin is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT). Find her online at or join the Facebook group Nutrition in York.