I’m going to try to write this blog entry without being distracted by the scrumptious smells of Bara Brith baking in the oven … it’s for the teachers at school, thank goodness I had the foresight to make the family a little loaf too!

The topic of Autoimmune, Intolerance or Allergy can be quite a tense one. Those in the know will understand how irritating it can be for people to get it wrong and misunderstand what others can or can’t put into their mouths! Take a Diabetic drinking a small can of Coke or tucking into a packet of Jelly Babies. Hypo quick fix or why you’re diabetic in the first place? Take a dinner lady at school telling Bethany that the breadcrumb coated fish is gluten free and won’t hurt her. Uneducated or ignorant of the damage it could cause? Take the sarcastic comments from someone who was supposed to be caring for a friends daughter at Preschool when she was reminded of the little girls severe allergy to wheat, soya and dairy … ‘Vegetables! can she eat those’?!

I have an invisible wet fish in my handbag for such people, it comes out quite often. I imagine slapping them hard around the face with it, kind of like in the movies when you see something random and realise the star of the film was only imagining it – that’s me, sloppy wet fish slap!

Let me break it down for you in the only way I know how, bearing in mind Bethany is a child. Bethany suffers with two autoimmune conditions; Type 1 Diabetes and Coeliac’s Disease.

Type 1 Diabetes – this occurs when the body’s defenses go into overdrive, maybe they’ve recently been working overtime to combat a nasty cold, virus or common childhood disease such as chicken pox (this is one of many schools of thought) In most Type 1’s they are sadly predisposed to get Type 1 it’s normally just a matter of time. However, there are other reasons why someone becomes Type 1 such as medical intervention regarding the pancreas. So if the time is right, and the bodies immune system decides it quite liked the last battle, the antibodies army looks for another fight and this time focus all their troops on the pancreas and in particular the poor village of beta cells who work hard all day and night to produce and regulate insulin. The battle goes on for quite some time, months and sometimes even years, and the beta cells put up a damn good fight but eventually they are all destroyed resulting in Type 1 Diabetes. To continue to live, the diabetic has to give themselves their own insulin and mimic the fantastic job the village of Beta did by working out how much or how little they need to get through each meal and physical activity, every day for the rest of their lives! This is an Autoimmune condition.

Coeliacs Disease – occurs in a similar way to Type 1 Diabetes in the fact that the immune army become restless and go looking for a fight, in Beth’s case I imagine her army to be quite a rowdy bunch because they didn’t waste much time between her Type 1 Diagnosis and the beginnings of her symptoms for Coeliacs! This time the army turned it’s attention to something that was a foreign body – gluten. Now before the army turned up, the body had accepted gluten for what it was (a food protein) and had dealt with it in the same way it had dealt with all foods that entered into Beths gut. Once the army had turned up they didn’t like the look of gluten and there was a lot of it so they decided to call for back up! The back up arrives and once the antibody army is big enough they lay in wait for the next gluten invasion. Each time this happens there are casualties, obviously the gluten doesn’t stand a chance but neither does the lining of the gut which is the battlefield. The gut has tiny little fleshy tentacle-type hairs, their purpose to reach out to passing food and extract all the goodness required for the body to thrive – I imagine them to look like a sea anemone! Sadly, battle after battle leaves these ‘hairs’ damaged and in cases of prolonged attacks they’ve all but disappeared! This means the food is passing through, nutrients are not being gathered, the body doesn’t thrive and grow as it should. This is also an Autoimmune condition.

Lactose Intolerance – if you’ve read a previous post earlier this week you’ll know that Bethany developed a secondary lactose intolerance, this basically meant that given her late coeliacs diagnosis it made it more likely that she’d have trouble digesting lactose which is the sugar found in dairy. To breakdown Lactose into sugar and glucose so that’s it’s digestible, the body needs an enzyme called lactase. Now I’m a bit sketchy on the details as to why but Beth didn’t produce enough lactase so I’m going to make an educated guess and assume it’s because her gut was already damaged by the full scale antibodies v’s gluten battle and as a result this had a knock on effect with the production of lactase, sufficed to say, she didn’t do it for a while, at least not until we’d removed gluten from the battlefield and the the antibody army had retreated to base camp! The answer was to cut out dairy totally until the painful tummy aches and severe flatulence disappeared. Long term/life long lactose intolerance, is another kettle of fish and to find out more I’ve added this link Allergy or Intolerance? if not treated with a total dairy ban prolonged contamination can lead to complications such as brittle bones and malnutrition. Other common Intolerances are wheat, soya, food colourings and sugars.

Allergy – this is the potentially lifelong condition which can be very dramatic when someone comes into contact with their allergen. Common allergens are nuts, wheat, dairy, pollen, insect stings, eggs, colourings and fish but people can be allergic to all kinds of things, I have a member of our family who is allergic to certain metals as well as nuts. The resulting reaction to a contamination is often immediate and sometimes severe, these severe reactions often result in the person having to carry around epipens and other such medications to counteract the body going into hyperdrive producing armies of chemicals to combat the allergen.

Needless to say all the above are horrible for those effected but none need to be life threatening or lead to long term damage or complications if managed carefully. So now you know the basics of differences between Autoimmune, Intolerance and Allergy – no wet fish slap for you!