Food Intolerance Tests – can they help you?

A really interesting article hit the headlines recently in the Daily Mail regarding a woman who is able to finally lead a normal life after 25 years of suffering with moderate to severe migraines. Her relief finally came with the help of food intolerance testing which showed that she had an intolerance to cow’s milk, corn and prunes. She stated that the process had been life changing. Click here to read the article.

I was really pleased to see this in the media because these tests can be so successful in alleviating health problems and I’ve seen many positive results with my own clients. I’ve also done the test myself and know first-hand what a difference it can make.

Firstly, it’s important to talk about what an intolerance test is. The test shows an antibody reaction to certain foods that may be causing unpleasant symptoms in the body.

“What is food to one man, may be fierce poison to another” Lucretius circa 75BC

However, there are different types of reactions to food. There are reactions that are immune-mediated and those that are non-immune mediated. Only certain immune-mediated reactions will show up on a food intolerance test. I’ll explain this briefly for clarification.

  • Non-Immune mediated reactions can be the result of an enzyme deficiency in the body, for example lactose intolerance. These reactions will not show up on a test, as they do not involve the formation of any antibodies.
  • IgE Immune mediated reactions – these are known as “allergic reactions” (anaphylaxis) and have immediate effect on the body. The offending foods cause the immune system to create antibodies (IgE) that lead to a rapid release of histamine. This can cause reactions like breathing problems, swollen lips and tongue, hives and low blood pressure. In extreme cases, symptoms can be life threatening and these foods should be avoided at all costs for life. If you suspect you are having an allergic reaction then you need to speak to your GP as these reactions are usually measured via a blood test or a specific skin prick test.
  • IgG Immune mediated food intolerance reactions. Strictly speaking, as these reactions involve the immune system and the production of antibodies (IgG), technically they should also be referred to as “allergic” responses. But basically IgG reactions have been commonly referred to as “intolerance reactions” for so long now that it makes more sense to just call them that. One of the key differences between IgE and IgG reactions to foods is the response time. With IgG reactions, the response is delayed and can show hours or even days after the food has been consumed, making it very difficult to identify the problem foods.

Food intolerances (IgG reactions) can lead to inflammation within the body and the gradual appearance of many symptoms. These symptoms aren’t life threatening like a severe IgE allergic reaction but can have really unpleasant effects on the body.

It isn’t fully understood yet why we develop food intolerances but it is linked to a compromised immune system. When the immune system is overwhelmed, possibly due to poor digestion, stress, infections, medications, a poor diet or high alcohol consumption, it can react to proteins in the food, treating them as foreign invaders and forming immune complexes that deposit in the body causing a variety of symptoms. Examples of these may include:

Gastrointestinal: bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, flatulence
Skin: eczema, spots, hives
Nervous system: migraines, headaches, depression, anxiety, fatigue
Respiratory: asthma, cough, sinusitis, rhinitis
Metabolic:  weight gain
Musculoskeletal: joint pains, muscle aches, arthritis

The good news is that as soon as the offending foods are identified and removed from the diet, symptoms may decrease and even disappear.  These foods can usually be gradually reintroduced after a period of time. It is believed that the successful reintroduction is due to the fact that the body is no longer overburdened and has had time to recover. However it is important to state that some people may find that they are better off removing certain foods for the long haul.

These tests don’t come cheap and can range from approximately £60 - £200 varying on the number of foods being tested. You may ask why would I spend this much? From experience I can say that it could be near impossible to identify that you are actually reacting to cashew nuts for example or a certain grape in your favourite wine. Even for some of the more common food intolerances, such as wheat, gluten or dairy it can be really useful to have a very clear indication of how these foods may be affecting your immune system. I also find it helps with compliance in terms of sticking to the changes.

Food intolerance tests have moved on in recent years and the best companies are Cambridge Nutritional Sciences and YorkTest Laboratories. Although these tests can be done independently, I genuinely feel it is beneficial to work with a nutritional therapist who will not only guide you through the process, but will also piece together the whole picture because this is usually only part of the problem. If you are interested in finding out more and making an appointment, please feel free to contact me.


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