Allergy can happen with food sensitivity

Baby Suzie had allergies diagnosed and was given help to manage her diet. But Suzie still had reflux. She was still waking often through the night, had tummy pain, constipation, was irritable, and was not gaining weight. When the Low Chemical diet was added to her diet all of these symptoms reduced and she looked like a different girl with more colour in her now-happy face.

Food chemical sensitivity “aggravates the underlying disorder in susceptible people”. The important idea here is that one of the underlying disorders it aggravates is allergy. This idea has developed from gradually accumulating outcomes of research into food chemical sensitivity, separate to findings in allergy. I have often seen small children known to be allergic, often to milk, have less symptoms on a low chemical diet and have been able to begin tolerating more milk than they could before implementing the low chemical diet. Initially information came from families who sought help primarily for migraine, ADHD or IBS. Then those with eczema also found that the low chemical diet helped more than just attention to foods that were positive on allergy tests.

 “Figures show that up to six million Australians claim to be allergic to foods but only one in eight had had the condition diagnosed”. What is happening? Other clinical research that seems unrelated may provide the answer.


World-wide and Australian dietitian clinical research (including my  work) has reported that food additives do cause reactions in children. Not just in ADHD children but also in a susceptible group in the general population. Earlier research showed that where children react to additives, and other suspect natural chemicals in food, they not only report behavioural changes, but also worsening of sleep problems, eczema, diarrhoea, wheezing, headaches and tummy aches. When people report reactions to foods they use the word “allergy” when it is more likely that food chemical intolerance is the cause. Food sensitivity is a better word as it can cover both true allergy and food chemical intolerance.

One important indicator of food chemical susceptibility is a family history of allergy. Another is sensitivity to aspirin [salicylate]. Another is sensitivity to environmental factors such as perfumes. Chemicals excluded during investigation of food sensitivity include medicinal and natural salicylates [present in such foods as tomato, acidic fruits and spices], additive colour, flavour and benzoates [which have a similar chemical structure to salicylates], other preservatives, additive and natural MSG, amines [In chocolate and rich foods] and strong smells.

Why has food chemical sensitivity not been recognised as relevant when thinking about allergy? The first reason is because sensitivity to food chemicals is dependant on whether you are susceptible or not, and not on whether you have a diagnosis of a particular condition such as ADHD or eczema. It is recognised that different allergic people are allergic to different whole foods because this can be shown with skin prick testing [SPT]. It is also recognised that there is delayed onset reactions which do not usually show with SPT. Yet somehow the idea of chemical sensitivity, also with individual variation in which chemicals cause symptoms, is not recognised. Like delayed onset allergic reactions there is no clarifying test. Similarly the only way chemical intolerance can be clarified is by dietary elimination and challenge. So when you want to report some diet-related symptom with your doctor, explain it as a reaction rather than an allergy so you don’t end up in a discussion about what allergy is. And your doctor can attend to the medical aspects. It will be great when more allergists and immunologists acknowledge that allergy and food chemical sensitivity can happen together.

Another reason that food chemical sensitivity is not recognised in some with allergy is that reactions occur when the sum of several suspect chemicals reaches a threshold, so the person is rarely able to pinpoint all the suspect foods.

While food sensitive patients do sometimes report feeling faint when having a reaction they rarely have an anaphylaxis reaction. Another interesting finding is that those who have food sensitivity also have a family history of another group of symptoms which are not allergy. These include headaches, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], mouth ulcers and car sickness.

It is possible to see a family where one member is seeing a neurologist re migraine, another an allergist re hay fever or eczema, another a gastroenterologist re IBS, an infant with diarrhoea seeing a paediatrician, and another child presenting for dietary investigation of ADHD.

Food chemical sensitivity is a complex condition, but much has been learned over the last forty-four years. You can read the many interesting Articles via   and see the books on how to do the diet investigation. If possible do add on help from an accredited practicing dietitian so that you do not exclude more than you need to, and so any ill effects on your social life, or nutritional intake are avoided.