It seems as though drinking soymilk and eating gluten free isn’t just for people with intolerances, as many of us are now eating free of natural substances such as lactose and gluten by choice.
Unfortunately, it’s due to this freedom of choice in diet that too many people are still not recognising that an intolerance is not a preference of diet, it’s a medical issue which should be treated as such. General practitioner Doctor Kevin Cheng says incorrectly treating and managing these issues can result in long-term health issues.
“Intolerance to food, where food is not digested properly, is different to food allergy, where the immune system is involved and an allergic response occurs. If food intolerances are not managed well, then ongoing symptoms may persist, such as diarrhoea, bloating, headaches, rash, abdominal pain and fatigue,” Dr. Cheng said.
“Whilst these symptoms typically wax and wane, there may be long-term detrimental health impacts, such as anaemia, malnutrition, dehydration, asthma (intolerance to sulfites), colitis (intolerance to salicylates), and even anxiety (intolerance to amines) and depression (intolerance to aspartame sweeteners).”
What is a food Intolerance?
Food intolerances are technically the result of a reaction to certain natural substances, but does eliminating these substances from our diets contribute to our subsequent intolerances? Doctor and Chinese Medicine specialist Irene Prantalos eliminating items without proper investigation can lead to an increase in other intolerances.
“… A food intolerance is a symptom of the body being in disharmony and if you just avoid the food and not address the underlying health issue, the list of foods the person is intolerant to can grow. On the flip side, if someone does a test (such as a home kit) and finds what they have an intolerance to, once their health is improved they most likely will find they will be more tolerant to the food they previously were intolerant to,” Doctor Prantalos said.
How do we tell the difference between allergies and intolerances?
It’s all too easy to misdiagnose intolerances as allergies and vice versa. There is a significant difference between an intolerance and an allergy and it’s important that you seek out professional advice to make that distinction before attempting to self-treat with elimination diets or other methods. Unfortunately, a food sensitivity tests does not double as an allergy test, which means in order to get an accurate diagnosis on suspected allergies, you will need to consult a GP.
For most people with allergies, there will be an obvious difference in severity reflected in their symptoms; for example, someone with a gluten allergy could go into anaphylactic shock after coming into contact with gluten, while someone with a gluten intolerance may experience bloating, mild stomach discomfort, headaches and other minor symptoms. If the symptoms are minor, the only way to separate the allergy symptoms from intolerance symptoms is to sit through a legitimate allergy test.
Food intolerance is made up of various issues inside the digestive system, while food allergies affect the immune system, both of which can be hard to distinguish. If you think you may be one of thousands who do have an aversion to a particular substance, there are now multiple ways for you to investigate. But can these methods actually tell us what we need to know?
What is a food sensitivity test?
Home sensitivity testing is a procedure performed at home to uncover hidden sensitivities to particular foods and substances, however, there are contrasting opinions as to the overall accuracy of these tests. According to dietitian Valentina Duong, these tests, although quick and easy are not exactly worth what we are paying for them.
“I definitely do not think sensitivity kits are worth the money because unfortunately they aren’t accurate or valid. This is because they test the IgG antibody which are not representative of an intolerance,” she said.
IgG is an antibody protein specifically produced by our immune system to defend our bodies from harmful bacteria and viruses. When these proteins sense an antigen, the body has an inflammatory response which will destroy the antigen.
Sydney based General Practitioner Doctor Kevin Cheng says sensitivity food tests aren’t 100 percent accurate and may pinpoint prior intolerances over current intolerances.
“The accuracy of home sensitivity food tests can be as low as 20%. These tests identify an IgG antibody that reflects past exposure to specific foods, rather than being diagnostic of current intolerance or allergy. More accurate allergy testing is conducted by GPs or allergy specialists, and involve blood tests at a pathology lab, skin prick testing or food challenges,” Dr. Cheng said.
“If anyone is worried about food sensitivities, it is important that they get a professional diagnosis through a doctor and work with an accredited dietitian to reduce their symptoms,” he said.
“Many do-it-yourself experiences with home sensitivity food tests result in confusion about whether there is intolerance or allergy, uncertainty around which foods are causing symptoms, and applying the wrong treatment which results in ongoing stress, expenses and ill health.”
Healthy Stuff Director of Operations Cris West believes food sensitivity and allergy tests do in fact have their benefits.
“As the science develops it is becoming more apparent that different people will have wildly different responses to the same food item,” he said.
“For one person, they might consume a food and experience no reaction beyond feeling full but, on the other end of the spectrum, that same food could cause a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction. Additionally, there is a whole spectrum of reactions and symptoms that may occur between those two opposite experiences,” Mr West said.
“For people with a more wild reaction, they might experience bloating, headaches, acne, digestive distress or any number of other symptoms of food sensitivity. Food sensitivity and allergy testing kits can help an individual identify their own trigger foods to help them better understand how their diet can be affecting their overall health.”
How does it work?
There are multiple different methods used by home sensitivity kit providers to isolate our potential intolerances including hair, blood and breath analysis, however, according to Dr. Cheng the accuracy of these tests according to method does vary.
“Hair analysis may be useful for heavy metal exposure and mineral analysis, such as lead poisoning, but are less useful for food sensitivities. Blood tests (serum) examine total IgE, an antibody associated with allergy, specific IgE reactions (radioallergosorbent test) and other antibodies to detect conditions such as Coeliac’s Disease,” Dr. Cheng said.
“Other tests that may be recommended by your GP, in the presence of gut health symptoms, include a Urea Beath Test (for a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori that causes stomach ulcers), Faecal Occult Blood (a stool testing for bleeding in case of cancer) and Faecal Calprotectin (that may help diagnose Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease),” he said.
According to allergy.org.au these types of tests can be misleading which can eventually result in misdiagnosis and treatment based on incorrect information. Misdiagnosing your symptoms and self-treating can ultimately be extremely harmful to the body and can also postpone the correct management of your intolerances.
So if you’re hoping to identify some hidden intolerances, by all means try out a food sensitivity kit, but make sure to have a GP back up the findings!