Browse Tag by Food intolerance

What is leaky gut syndrome?

“Leaky gut syndrome” is a term used to describe symptoms and conditions caused by the immune system reacting to particles, toxins or other substances that have been absorbed into the bloodstream via a porous (“leaky”) bowel (source: NHS).

What is leaky gut syndrome? - A Free From Life
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The digestive system not only breaks down food and absorbs nutrients, it plays an important role in protecting the body from harmful substances. The walls of the intestine act as a barrier to control what enters the bloodstream for transportation to the organs.

Small gaps in the intestinal wall, known as tight junctions, allow water and nutrients to pass through, while blocking the passage of harmful substances. When these tight junctions become loose, the gut becomes more permeable, which may allow bacteria and toxins to pass from the gut into the bloodstream.

In a healthy gut, the layers of cells that line the intestinal wall act as a protective barrier that absorbs particles from food, toxins, and other microorganisms. Any damage to these cells can cause them to become porous or leaky. This is what we commonly term as a ‘leaky gut’.

When the intestine becomes permeable, particles from food, toxins, and other microorganisms are able to make their way into the bloodstream, undigested. This triggers an immune response, whereby the particles are treated as foreign bodies.

“Intestinal permeability, also termed leaky gut, can be responsible for a very long list of symptoms,” says Nutritionist, Caroline Gilmartin of Nutraclin.

“Digestive system issues are on the increase (GP’s and Natural Practitioners will both agree) and in my opinion, the integrity of our digestive system is becoming weaker and weaker. This is linked to many auto immune conditions, but also many sub-clinical conditions which have not yet received a medical diagnosis.”

Leaky gut is linked to inflammatory conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or inflammatory bowel disease, where inflammation causes the gut to become porous.

Other factors thought to have an impact include:

• Excessive sugar intake: a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, particularly fructose, can harm the barrier function of the intestinal wall.
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): long-term use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen can increase intestinal permeability.
• Excessive alcohol intake
• Nutrient deficiencies: particularly in vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc have each been implicated in increased intestinal permeability.
• Stress: chronic stress is a contributing factor to multiple gastrointestinal disorders, including leaky gut.
• Dysbiosis: the imbalance of the good and bad bacteria, which is disrupted by all the above factors, as well as by antibiotics.

Some health practitioners claim this can lead to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and cramps, as well as psoriasis, eczema, and allergies, fatigue and an inability to absorb nutrients, including vitamins B and D, magnesium and certain amino acids.

“Logically, if your body’s ability to absorb nutrients is compromised, how can there not be a long list of symptoms which can be linked to leaky gut,” says Caroline.

“Everyone has their own genetic susceptibilities and therefore different people will be affected in different ways. For one person, it may manifest as allergies, for others it could be severe fatigue of arthritis.”

However, whilst gastroenterologists acknowledge gut permeability, many disagree these undigested particles cause such symptoms, claiming they aren’t irritating enough. Whilst leaky gut syndrome is a distinct medical condition claimed by nutritionists and alternative medicine physicians, the wider medical community rarely acknowledge its existence.

Very few scientific studies mention leaky gut syndrome and according to the NHS, there is currently little evidence to support the theory that a porous bowel is the direct cause of any significant, widespread problems.

There is also little evidence that the “treatments” some people claim help to reduce bowel “leakiness”, such as nutritional supplements and herbal remedies, have any beneficial effect for most of the conditions they supposedly help.

However, there are medical studies that cite intestinal permeability and leading expert on gluten sensitivity, Dr Fasano, conducted some interesting research on the effects of gluten and gut bacteria on the small intestine, along with the effects of gliadin amongst coeliacs.

“In my clinic, there are many ways to ascertain whether or not the likelihood of leaky gut is causing an issue. There are lab tests which can be done privately, but I also use iridology, muscle response testing and case history,” Caroline says.

“These tests are not available on the NHS and if they were, there is no pharmaceutical drug which can cure. The only way I know to help leaky gut, is an individualised nutritional programme. One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a new practitioner, is that clients who have leaky gut do NOT necessarily have severe digestive system issues of IBS. The range of symptoms I have seen with Leaky Gut Syndrome is very far reaching, from rheumatoid arthritis, to chronic fatigue”.

Caroline Gilmartin is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist who practices in Kent, Manchester and London. She owns and runs Nutraclin and is a full member of the Naturopathic Nutrition Association (NNA) and an associate member of the General Naturopathic Council.


Dairy free diaries

Dairy Intolerance - what you need to know - A Free From Life
Image courtesy of tiverlucky at

My son is dairy and wheat intolerant and although I make most things to suit him, I don’t always avoid these items in my own diet.

Having suffered long-term with IBS, I’ve found my own symptoms are worsened by nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, mainly). Avoiding these foods definitely helps keep my stomach from tying in knots and my skin breaking out in hives, but one thing it hasn’t helped with is my skin.

I haven’t talked about my skin problems on this blog before, but it’s time to finally ‘come out’!

Although I suffered with bad skin as a teen, it cleared when I started taking the pill. When I came off the pill, I went on to have three children, and during this time my skin was clear, which I think was mainly down to the hormones swimming around my system during that time.

It was after having my third child that things began to unravel. A year after having him, I sought help because my IBS was at its worst and my skin was terrible.

Having taken measures to help with both of these problems, I’ve since changed my diet to get the IBS under control and the products I use do a good job of controlling my skin – mostly.

The area I can’t seem to do anything about is my chin.

I’ve looked into it (thanks Google), and found the cause of outbreaks in this area is hormonal related and common amongst women of 30+. Great. Even better news, it’s a recognised form of acne. Wonderful.

So it seems unless I go back on the pill (not going to happen) or take some form of hormone regulating medication (I’m in my early forties, so I’m not going there yet), there isn’t a lot I can do. Or is there?

Some suggestions indicate poor digestion as a possible contributor to these forms of outbreaks (that’ll be me then), with a link to dairy. So it leaves me with little choice but to give this option a try.

I’m reaching the end of week one of my dairy free trial. I tried to kid myself that I didn’t each that much dairy in the first place, but I’ve found the difficulties arise when you go out.

What has changed this week?

  • I went to Costa (once), for a takeaway and had a soya milk cappuccino (wasn’t too bad). Didn’t choose anything to eat because the choice is limited to dried fruit, nuts or some mini cherry bakewells (too sweet for me).
  • I took my eldest daughter plus friends to the local trampoline park on Saturday and it was over lunchtime. Again I had a coffee with soya milk, but there wasn’t anything I could eat except crisps (and I don’t do potatoes do I?) By the time we left and called into town on the way home, I was starving and ended up getting a slice of banana bread from the local gluten free cafe (it was one of three choices that were both gluten and dairy free).
  • Today, I was out shopping with my middle daughter, whilst my eldest and her friends went to the cinema (this, and the trampolining, were because of her birthday, not that I take her to stuff and don’t do anything with the other two – just in case you were wondering). I needed caffeine (as you do when you’ve had three teenagers for a sleepover), so we dropped in to M and S.

Although there were a few choices of gluten free cakes, there wasn’t anything dairy free. Even if I’d opted to forego the gluten free, the choice didn’t improve because all the sandwiches included dairy. I ended up with a gluten free bread bun, spread with margarine and you guessed it, a coffee with soya milk.

I will say one thing for this week, I have definitely eaten less and avoiding dairy has meant not giving into the sugar cravings. I can also appreciate, more than ever, what my son has to live with on a daily basis and it’s the reason why I always take snacks for him wherever we go.

As for the skin (the reason for doing this) I can’t say I’ve seen any improvement yet, although it’s early days and I wouldn’t expect to. The test will be to see how it fairs over a complete cycle because after all, it’s the hormones at work here, and diet may not be the contributing factor.

I’m off to make a peach cobbler now. It’s a simple recipe and will be both gluten and dairy free, plus low sugar. It is Sunday after all, and with the log fire burning away, some comfort food feels like the perfect end to the week.


Do children’s menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

Do children's menus need to be so gluten and dairy heavy? - A Free From Life

I took two of my children out for dinner on Friday for a treat. Husband and eldest daughter were both out, so we thought, why not?

It’s hard to eat out though, if you’re intolerant to dairy and wheat.

Whilst I can’t fault the management of the restaurant we went to – he was more than happy to sort something out for my son to eat – there wasn’t a single thing on the children’s menu that he could have.

Giving a customer an allergens menu isn’t enough.

All it told me was there was very little on the entire menu that didn’t contain both gluten and dairy.

What I don’t understand is, should it be so difficult to put together a menu that doesn’t contain these things? Do all children’s menus have to be so gluten and dairy heavy?

Here are the items on the children’s menu:
Fish fingers, Cumberland sausage, chicken burger, barbeque ribs and macaroni with cheese sauce or tomato and basil sauce.

According to the allergens menu, all these items contain gluten and dairy, which to me doesn’t make sense. I look at this menu and think how easy it would be to provide gluten free pasta with a tomato sauce, plain chicken fillet and source gluten free sausages. There should also be an alternative to fries (coated in wheat) and mashed potato.

What did my son eat?

Well, given that his choice was either burger without the bun or a chicken skewer, he went for the chicken. Not being a fan of mashed potato, they said would he like baked beans and some salad and that was it, the extent of his choice.


As someone who regularly makes meals and bakes gluten and dairy free, I know it can be done and I also know it doesn’t even have to be difficult.

Why does everything have to be coated in breadcrumbs? Even the fries have wheat on them and they are potatoes!

A piece of grilled chicken or salmon is just as popular with children as chicken nuggets are, aren’t they? Well, they are with mine anyway.

Some steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes to go with it? Not difficult at all. And how difficult would it be to keep some gluten free pasta in stock?

I seriously get fed up of being given an allergens menu as if a restaurant is doing me a favour, when all they’re actually doing is ticking a box and depressing the hell out of me because the choice is so limited.

Gluten free may be a popular choice for many now, but what restaurant owners need to wake up to is that many who are gluten intolerant are also dairy intolerant too and many of these are children.

Our children don’t need deep fried breaded food. Good quality, relatively plain dinners are a much better choice and I’m sure most parents would agree.

Yes, this is a rant of a post today, but I’ll say it now and I will keep saying it until hopefully we see some changes.


Low muscle tone, hypermobility & food intolerance – their effect on childhood development

Low muscle tone, hypermobility & food intolerance - their effect on childhood development - A Free From Life
Photo courtesy of chrisroll/

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. Then I found out I’d been nominated for an award and it put the post to the front of my mind again. I mean me, little old me and my little old blog? It’s a lovely honour that someone should think of this little corner of the virtual world as being a contender for the Allergy Blog Awards UK and it is a reminder of why I started it in the first place. That’s what I wanted to talk about today. Continue Reading


FODMAPS and IBS – Is it possible to control the symptoms?

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

I recently wrote about a bad experience I had with my IBS and my struggle to control the symptoms, even after twenty years of suffering with it.

The term irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, came about as the result of a group of doctors and researchers sitting in a room together and deciding what to call this collective set of symptoms that linked to the digestive system. They understood that it was a genuine medical concern, but because no one could identify one particular cause (still can’t), they had to group them together.

FODMAPS and IBS - A Free From Life

The term, IBS, for me, became synonymous for ‘hypochondriac with stomach ache’ and because of that stigma, I never went to see my doctor about it. Believing that they couldn’t do anything about it anyway, I doubt that I ever will go. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s down to me to work out what causes my symptoms and try to manage it that way. That’s easier said than done, though. My recent attack (the one I wrote about), came as a complete surprise because I hadn’t suffered that badly in ages. I thought I had it under control, but apparently not.

Looking back, I can see that stress played a big part in that day and also not eating properly. For me, those two things are really important and as we know digestion is directly affected by stress, it’s no surprise that IBS sufferers can find their symptoms worsening when their stress levels increase. I have also identified, in recent years, some foods that I am intolerant to (the nightshade group) and cutting these out of my diet has really helped.

I wonder whether I will ever truly know the causes, though. Is it gluten? Is it dairy? and what about FODMAPS? Haven’t heard of these yet?  High FODMAP foods are thought to be directly linked to IBS or digestive symptoms and I first heard about them when my husband had surgery on his stomach. His consultant recommended he follow a low FODMAP diet and it’s interesting that we have identified a number of foods that irritate his stomach belonging to this food group.

It’s not an easy diet to follow, though and it can be very confusing to know what foods to eat and what to avoid. This is why I am pleased to have the opportunity to road test a new app called FODMAP Friendly, specifically aimed at those who would like to follow a low FODMAP diet.

I think apps for people with food intolerances and allergies have real value. Not only do they provide vital information, you can find that information quickly and easily and wherever you are in the world. Click here to read more about some of the apps that are available to try. They include information for gluten free shopping and dining, ways to manage and record your symptoms and even an app for translating your allergy to help you communicate your symptoms when abroad.

The app I will be testing is brand new and I’m looking forward to reporting how I get on. You can learn more about FODMAPs here.

How do you manage your IBS Symptoms?


Should food service workers receive basic food allergy and intolerance training?

Should food service workers be given basic food allergy and intolerance training? - A Free From Life
Image by Vlado, courtesy of

I say this time and again, but it’s so frustrating when you go out to eat and you’re trying to find somewhere that caters for your dietary needs. I’ve had some great experiences at restaurants and some terrible ones. I’ve come across staff who are completely clued up about food allergy and intolerance needs and others that have no idea whatsoever. For instance, I once asked if something was dairy free and had the response ‘is that the same as gluten free?’

What is it like to be dairy and gluten intolerant - Nikki Young Writes

It’s tear your hair out time, fuelled with anxiety whenever we go anywhere and I can never relax until I’ve ordered something that my son can eat. You could say why do we even bother going out, but why shouldn’t we? As a family, we’ve always enjoyed eating in restaurants and cafes. It’s great for the children to learn how to behave in social situations and I see no reason why we should hide away just because we have a gluten and dairy intolerant son.

Am I expecting too much though? Food service workers are, after all, paid minimum wages and what do they care? Although restaurants and cafes now have to indicate whether their food contains any of the major known allergens, this doesn’t mean that the staff are any more qualified to answer questions about the food offered. The managers, yes, but not the staff that work for them.

One example of the inconsistencies of restaurants is when my husband took the children to Frankie and Benny’s, Tunbridge Wells. We’ve been there before and were well looked after, so it was somewhere that he thought would be fine to take them after they’d been to the cinema next door.

My husband asked for the gluten free menu and realised that it only had adult portions. The little one said he would like the ribs, so my husband asked  if he could have a smaller portion from this gluten free menu. The waitress said that they were not allowed to change the menu in any way, but as my husband explained (at least three times in the end), he was not asking them to change the menu, but to provide a smaller portion of what was there. After all, could a six year old really be expected to eat £17 worth of ribs?!

The waitress replied that why couldn’t our son have the ribs from the children’s menu, to which my husband asked would that be possible – are they gluten free then?

‘How should I know?’ came the reply. It was at this point that my husband told her to forget it and they left.

Perhaps she had a valid question, how is she supposed to know this information if she isn’t told it in the first place? But at the same time, if you don’t know something, you go and ask someone who does, don’t you? If you work in the service industry, it’s not your job to be rude to the customers and if you find their requests irritating, then perhaps you are in the wrong job.

I know there are training packages for food service staff to learn about food allergies and intolerances. Of course, these cost money and unlike basic food hygiene training, it’s not compulsory. Perhaps it should be and of course from my point of view, I would definitely like to see that happening one day.

If mistakes are made in a restaurant and the wrong food is served because of lack of knowledge, it could be fatal to some and life threatening to others. For my son, it would be unpleasant and uncomfortable if he ate something that he shouldn’t, but the effects are seen almost immediately and I’m sure Frankie and Benny’s wouldn’t be too pleased if he were to have an accident in their restaurant!

This isn’t an isolated case. It happens all the time and as I’ve pointed out here, this is a restaurant that says it caters for allergies and in the past we’ve been there and had no problems. The inconsistencies with staff knowledge and training, however, meant that on this particular occasion Frankie and Benny’s failed to honour that statement and my husband and children had to find somewhere else to eat.

Do you think they should care about that, or do they see us as one less problem to worry about? Perhaps they don’t really need or want the likes of us in their restaurants, trying to change the menus and order around our dietary needs.

What about you, have you had similar experiences of repeat visits to restaurants and inconsistencies in the service? Do you think that food service staff should receive basic food allergy and intolerance training?

Travelling with 5

Travelling with Food Intolerances – The Ups and Downs of In-Flight Meals

Airlines traveller's guide to In-Flight Meals - A Free From Life

I know from experience what it’s like when an airlines messes up on the meal you ordered. My son, who cannot eat dairy or gluten, was given a child’s meal by mistake (a dairy and gluten fest) on a flight to America last year. There was no alternative for him, apart from a bit of green salad that the team managed to scrape together. It was a nightmare.

The mix up came because I couldn’t order him both a dairy AND gluten free meal. It was one or the other. The alternative was perhaps a vegan meal, but I wasn’t sure if it would suit a five year old child. So I rang up customer services, explained the situation and thought it was sorted. What went wrong (I think), was that they marked him down as ‘child’ and he ended up with the same meal as his sisters – macaroni cheese, yoghurt and chocolate!

There is no way I will go on a flight without taking food for him after that experience, regardless what I order in advance. And after finding the whole process somewhat confusing, I decided to put together some air travel tips for people with food intolerances.

I worked with the team at SheKnowsUK to produce an infographic setting out what the major airlines offer in terms of in-flight meals and how you go about ordering them. You can see the result here. I was amazed at how different the airlines approach their in-flight meal service, but most offer essentially the same choices. When it comes to ordering both gluten and dairy free in-flight meals for my son, it looks like that’s not going to happen any time soon. For us, it will be a case of choosing one or the other and picking out what he can eat, whilst adding to it with our own food.

Have you had any bad experiences with airlines food? Let me know.


When a Gluten Free Diet Isn’t the Healthiest Option

How to convert recipes to gluten free - A Free From Life

My son is intolerant to gluten and dairy, so as his mum and provider, I know how difficult it is to live with. I know the consequences of when he accidentally eats something that may contain one of these foods and I remember the pain he suffered before his diagnosis.

There are more and more people being diagnosed with gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease and there are an equal number, if not more, who say they feel better for avoiding wheat and gluten in their diet. It’s not surprising then, that the free-from market has exploded, with new products appearing on the shelves all the time.

This is great news isn’t it?

Well you might say that, especially if you become chronically ill through eating food that is contaminated with even a tiny trace of gluten, but for those who think that the packaged products on the free from aisle represent a healthier option, think again.

Here are 5 reasons why:

1. More sugar – don’t presume that you can avoid eating an ordinary cake or muffin in favour of a gluten free one in the belief that it’s a healthier option. Gluten free muffins, or any sweet treats for that matter, contain way more sugar than their gluten containing counterparts.

Let’s look at a Tesco’s own blueberry muffin. It has 15.5g of sugar per muffin, compared with 25.7g of sugar in a Genius gluten free blueberry muffin. The Genius muffin is smaller as well.

2. More fat – another consequence of removing gluten is that you get more of the other ingredients, not only sugar, but fat too.

A gluten free bagel contains 5.9g fat, compared with an ordinary one that has just 1.2g. Do you buy the sandwich thins for packed lunches? The gluten free version contains 6g fat, whereas the wheat containing one has 1.1g.

3. More expensive – to live the gluten free lifestyle means that you have to spend more money on your shopping. Those of us who have no choice but to buy these products, curse the amount of money they cost us. Take the sandwich thins above, for example. You pay £2.20 for a pack of 4 of the gluten free ones, whereas you get 6 for £1.25, if you buy the ordinary ones. Those blueberries muffin from Tesco, cost £1.20 for 4, where Genius charge £2.00 for 2. Remember I said the Tesco ones are much bigger too.

4. Arsenic – yes you read that right. If you eat a lot of processed gluten free (and dairy free) food, you could be dramatically increasing your exposure to arsenic. This is because it is present in much higher levels in rice than in any other grain. The growing condition of rice, lead to uptake of arsenic from soil at up to ten times greater than other crops. This is partly due to the way that rice absorbs more water when growing.

Arsenic is a natural mineral in the earth’s crust (organic arsenic) and is also present in both soil and water due to pesticide use (inorganic). The inorganic form is a known carcinogen and both forms are present in rice products such as milk, cereal and pasta.

Although it is possible to reduce the amount of arsenic by rinsing the rice prior to boiling and then boiling in a high volume of water, such is the concern about the increased consumption of rice-containing products, the FSA advise not to give them to infants and young children (1-4.5 years).

You find rice flour in most, if not all, gluten free products.

5. Gluten may not be the problem – if you suffer from digestive problems and symptoms such as IBS, cutting out gluten-containing foods may help you feel better. It isn’t necessarily gluten that is making you ill though. Often foods containing gluten also have yeast, an overgrowth of which in the gut (Candida) can lead to illness. Read also, my post about FODMAPS, a group of foods that are known to be a factor in IBS. Many of these foods contain gluten too.

If you are gluten intolerant or coeliac, you have to unfortunately pay the price in terms of being ripped off by these manufacturers trying to make money on the back of a mass trend (though I should add that not all of them take this attitude). I buy very little of them, preferring instead to make my own. I worry that my son will grow up to be unhealthy otherwise, through no fault of his own.

My advice is that if you want to live a healthy lifestyle, then go for it and eat a gluten free, natural diet. Don’t just assume that you can swap one processed food diet for another and that will be enough. It won’t. In fact, you are probably doing more harm than good.