The Consumer Show on RTE on Wednesday 1st April did a feature on a particular type of Food Intolerance testing which can now be done in many pharmacies around the country. The tests are quite expensive but is the test scientific and reliable?
The testing measures the level of IgG antibodies in the blood. The people advocating these tests advise that a high level of these IgG antibodies indicate an intolerance to the food, whereas the medical and scientific community say that it is “an index of exposure, not an index of abnormal sensitivity”. In other words if you eat an egg, you will have IgG antibodies present in your blood for egg. If you have a high level of antibodies for egg in your blood the testers would say you are intolerant to egg, the scientists would say you’ve eaten egg before.
The researcher on the show did one of these tests and although she had no symptoms came up as intolerant to egg white and wheat. Prof. Hourihane, a well known paediatric allergy consultant was asked about this and he explained how everyone has IgG antibodies present for all the foods they eat and how these tests are bound to throw up something.
The show concluded that the type of testing used doesn’t have a scientific basis and that consumers should be aware of this.
My own view is the same, I heard Dr. Joe Fitzgibbon speak at last year’s Allergy Expo in Dublin and one of his key messages was there is no simple test for food intolerance. It cannot be diagnosed by a blood test or skin prick test. He explained that some intolerances can only be diagnosed by the symptoms. He used the example of a patient with an allergy to potatoes, which would be extremely rare, but the symptoms being present as a result of eating the food was enough to diagnose. The way to test for a food intolerance is by elimination of the food completely and reintroduction to see if symptoms return.
It is not advisable to do this (especially with children) without advice from a dietitian or medical professional.
I think that there is confusion around the terminology for allergies and intolerances and because of the huge increase in people removing foods from their diet for health reasons, it has opened up a huge market for this kind of testing. These tests are cashing in on this growing trend. I have heard of people going gluten free to lose weight, or dairy free due to feeling bloated, they’ll give it a go. Of course a test which will give an answer one way or another – you are intolerant to x, y or z is an attractive option. I would love to have been given a more definitive answer when we brought my son to be diagnosed. He tested negative for allergies so we were told that it was ‘most likely’ the case that he had a cow’s milk protein intolerance (now called non-IgE mediated cow’s milk protein allergy). Being told it was was ‘most likely’ meant that there was always a seed of doubt. When your child is very sick and then is much better as a result of taking them off a food group, it should be proof enough, but it’s hard to accept that sometimes. There is often the feeling that you are making it up etc., especially when you have to explain to someone about the intolerance and they are skeptical. However, this type of intolerance testing is not the answer.
There is no simple test for food intolerance. An elimination and reintroduction process which can take a long time is the only real way to test.
You can read a summary of the Consumer Show Episode here.
If you are in Ireland you can watch the episode on RTE Player. It is the first topic on the show so is right at the start. [Available until 29th April 2015]
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