Improve your Health by Personalising your Diet
When people tell me various symptoms that they are suffering from, I nearly always recommended that they assess their diet. Now, I also recommend that they consider taking a food intolerance test.
I think that most people dealing with conditions, ranging from mild to chronic, are too willing to blindly accept (or prescribe!) medication when a dietary solution could remove the need for medication entirely, or at the very least complement it.
I’ve read a lot about the importance of gut health and food intolerance, and for a long time have been tempted to do an elimination diet so that I can tweak my diet to achieve optimum health. Elimination diets, however, are very costly, both in time and energy, as well as difficult to determine triggers. Food intolerance testing has been a massive help in eliminating the guess-work and giving me reassurance where my health and diet is concerned.
Gut Health and Intolerance
The gut is the epicentre of your mental and physical health, so much so that it is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. For example, as well as playing a huge role in your immune health, 90% of serotonin, the brain’s ‘happy hormone’ is produced in the gut!
There are more bacteria in your gut than cells in your entire body, so when the bacteria are out of balance, it can have a massive impact on your wellbeing.
Things that can cause an imbalance of the bacteria include illness, medication, stress, and the food and drink that you consume.
Like these other triggers, food intolerance is essentially an inflammatory response in your body. So, while food intolerances are generally associated with digestive issues, they can affect many other aspects of health too.
Inflammation itself is frequently referred to at ‘The Silent Killer’, as chronic inflammation, the consistent low-grade inflammatory state that is caused when your immune system is constantly responding to substances like certain foods that your body treats as a threat.
Chronic inflammation is the catalyst for most, if not all disease including: diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, Alzheimer’s, lung conditions, arthritis, autoimmune diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis) and many cancers.
Symptoms of Food Intolerance
It’s true that food intolerances are inextricably linked to gut health, but symptoms are not restricted to your gut.
People commonly report feeling bloated after eating certain foods, with symptoms of a tight, uncomfortable tummy and excess gas. Other well-known digestive symptoms include IBS, constipation and diarrhoea.
Conditions such as eczema are atopic (may occur in a part of the body not in contact with the allergen) and caused by skin prone to inflammation. Other dermatological issues associated with food intolerance include acne and itchy skin.
Asthma, also an atopic inflammatory condition, can be worsened by food intolerance. The inflammation caused by intolerance can also cause sinusitis, rhinitis, and frequent colds and infections.
Joint pain symptoms can include aching, stiff or swollen joints. Arthritis suffers frequently report that cutting out trigger foods can reduce their symptoms.
People who suffer from migraines may all experience different triggers for their symptoms. A link between food intolerance and migraines has long been suspected, so knowing your personal ‘food fingerprint’ can be highly beneficial.
Fatigue + Mood issues
From feeling sleepy, irritable, and lacking concentration, food intolerance can cause signs of fatigue. The gut is also linked to mental health conditions, such as depression, and mood is incredibly frequently cited as a symptom of intolerance.
Types of Food Intolerance + Allergy
Food allergies and most food intolerances are caused by the body’s immune system producing antibodies that ‘attack' certain foods as ‘foreign'.
However, there is no one definitive test for food intolerance because it takes on many different forms, which are all tested in different ways:
The kind of food intolerances that this guide primarily refers to involve an antibody, called IgG, which causes a delayed hypersensitivity reaction that is usually not immediate or severe. Often a person will develop symptoms hours or days after consuming the problem food, making the source hard to identify.
It is the IgG antibodies specific to antigenic food proteins that are monitored in food intolerance tests.
Conventional food allergies involve an IgE antibody that tends to cause immediate and severe reactions.
This is a lifelong autoimmune reaction to gluten proteins that damages the gut wall and prevents nutrients being properly absorbed.
Lactose and fructose are both sugars and intolerance to these is caused by a lack of enzymes to break them down in the body. A hydrogen breath test can diagnose lactose or fructose intolerance.
Intolerance can also be caused by a elevated histamine level due to a deficiency of diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme that breaks down histamine, which is a chemical that triggers an inflammatory response.
This can include reactions to food additives like tartrazine (E102), caffeine and sunset yellow (E110).
Resolving Food Intolerance
Thankfully, in some cases, IgG food intolerances can be resolved. This is because the IgG antibodies in the blood only live for a couple of months. If the problematic foods are avoided for 3-4 months, by the time the food is reintroduced into the diet all the IgG antibodies programmed to attack the food should have left the bloodstream.
However, a lot of people develop intolerances because the gut wall, which separates food ingested from the blood stream, gets damaged by antibiotics, painkillers, alcohol and too much wheat gluten.
This may cause incompletely digested food proteins to get into the bloodstream (this condition is referred to as ‘leaky gut’) and trigger your immune system to attack.
Therefore, as well as avoiding problematic foods, it’s also important to take actions to repair the gut to resolve any issues with food intolerance.
Food Intolerance Testing
Food intolerance testing is a fairly simple process.
The companies that offer food intolerance testing will provide you with a kit which will include lancets and a sample tube. All that is required of you is a finger prick (to draw a tiny amount of blood to sample) and that you then send your sample to the company.
Once it reaches the laboratories, experts carry out an enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA) test for food-specific IgG antibodies.
The Benefit of Food Intolerance Testing
It’s such a smooth and effortless process to achieve potentially life changing results. While it obviously requires parting with your pennies, you learn invaluable, life-changing information about your body and gain the power to improve your health.
I also believe that the process of deciding to invest in food intolerance testing is likely to suggest that you have an increasing awareness of your body and the things that affect is, which is always a good thing!
Food intolerance testing provides the perfect starting point and serves as a structural guide to conduct an elimination diet.
The Downsides To Food Intolerance Testing
Food intolerance tests have been criticised as being inaccurate and unreliable. Some reasons for this are outlined below. Nevertheless, they still provide guidance that might be very useful, at least in giving you a starting point for further investigation.
As with all form of blood testing, the levels of any substance detected are likely to fluctuate. Changes can be by the hour or day, over the period of weeks or months, or over a lifetime.
In the case of food intolerance testing, the IgG antibody levels are subject to change. This can depend on a number of factors, including how recently or frequently you have eaten a certain food, and explains why results may be different if you were to have subsequent tests done.
There is also the possibility that you may experience false positives being reported. This could be due to something called cross-reaction. This is where a reaction occurs because the ingredient has a very similar protein structure to an ingredient that you actually are reactive to.
You may require the help of a nutritionist for you to action your results. Food intolerance testing has been criticised due to some people cutting out foods without replacing them with others from the same food group. This can result in a less-varied diet (which can increase the likelihood of you developing further intolerances) and nutrient deficiencies. Seeking the help of a specialist can avoid this.
What To Look For In Food Intolerance Test Services
In order to ensure that your food intolerance test is as useful as possible, I recommend opting for a test that provides a comprehensive breakdown of food ingredients.
For example, rather than just testing for a reaction to ‘milk’, find a test that will test for different types of milk (cow, sheep, goat, buffalo) and even the different milk proteins (casein, whey).
It's also important to select a food intolerance testing service that will report your results in the most comprehensive way. Tests that include the numerical value of your reaction are more useful than those that just state a 'yes' or 'no' reaction to each food.
Have you taken a food intolerance test at any point? Share your experience in the comments section or tweet me @_nataliejohanna.