Health: Reacting to allergies

There's a difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. This I learned when I went along to Medicalternative, a private clinic in Dean Village, as part of my resolution to get to the bottom (so to speak), of my suspected irritable bowel syndrome.

Whereas an intolerance can affect the digestive system, leading to abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea and constipation it's not really life-threatening, although it can make life miserable for the sufferer. An allergy affects the immune system, which mistakenly identifies a specific food as a harmful substance and produces antibodies to fight it. It can be life-threatening and can affect the skin (eczema) or the respiratory system (asthma).

Luckily for me, I'm pretty sure there's nothing affecting my life in those ways, although I know I'm allergic to pineapple and kiwi fruit because I get a sore throat and mouth when I eat them.

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"Oral allergies are very common," Dr Alan Macpherson, the consultant, tells me. I explain that I had a recurring rash on my face in the summer that I think might indicate an allergy to strawberries, as I scoff them by the punnet when in season, so we decide to send some of my blood for testing.

There are a couple of ways to test for allergies. Suspected allergens can be dropped onto a small pin-prick in the skin: when the skin becomes irritated you've found your culprit. The blood-test method that Dr Macpherson uses is less time-consuming in that any number of substances can be checked at one time. The test measures the blood level of a type of antibody (immunoglobulin E, or IgE) that the body may make in response to certain allergens.

There are a number of usual suspects for allergies. These range from certain grasses, egg white, cow's milk, peanuts, dust mites, and cat and dog "dander". Patients at the Dean Village clinic can opt for a package which covers these common culprits or can have their blood tested for a staggering array of potential allergens.

Three days after my visit to Medicalternative I had a call from the surgery to let me know that I am in fact not allergic to strawberries, nor any of the typical allergens they tested my blood for. In a way I'm disappointed that I still don't know what causes my summer rash, but at least I know I'm free to guzzle my favourite seasonal treat with impunity.

Fab facts for a beautiful life


Berry good

If you can't remember the last time you stuck to your five-a-day routine, try some of the new Water Boosters from skincare brand, Dr Brandt. These offer an alternative to vitamin supplements – according to their publicity, one drop contains 15 times the anti-oxidants and polyphenols that would be found in one cup of green tea. Just add to a glass of water.

Dr Brandt Anti-Oxidant Blueberry Water Booster, 29, Space NK


Eyes right

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Feeling a little puffy-eyed? Reach for a tube of Nivea's new Visage Radiance Boosting Eye Cream, which instantly cools the eye area with its exotic ingredients, which include mango milk and cashmere proteins. We especially love its light-reflecting cosmetic ingredient, which makes you look as if you've had a little more sleep and indulged in a lot less partying.

Nivea Visage Radiance Boosting Eye Cream, 8.79,


Flexi regime

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Bristo Yoga School is starting classes aimed at the more athletic among us. Using principles of Ashtanga yoga which aim to improve flexibility and balance, these sessions will also help to drain metabolic waste. Their classes are transferable, so, if something comes up that you just can't miss you can make it up at any other class during the term.

Yoga for Athletes, 70 for an eight-week block, weekly from tomorrow, 4:15pm-5:30pm. Bristo Yoga School, 1 Bristo Place, Edinburgh (

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday 09 January, 2010.