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What if I told you that the foods you eat could cause you pain, fatigue and poor digestion? You would probably stop eating them right away. That is the problem for so many people, though, because they do not actually know which foods they should be avoiding. Today, I want to dive into the world of food intolerance testing and how you can avoid the wrong foods to right your body’s health immediately.
Did you know that the majority of people with ongoing health symptoms can have reactions to foods that are not obvious? They can actually eat a food and feel no different afterwards. But, over the coming hours or weeks, that food can cause inflammation in their body and can cause:
- Weight gain
- Poor digestion
- And much more
Key Insight: Because these reactions are not obvious and hard to note by trial-and-error, there are tests out there to help you find out which foods work better for your body than others.
Many different types of tests are available and some are more helpful than others. Because of the importance of this topic, I wanted to give you a thorough take on my experience.
If you have also been looking into topics like what food intolerances are, how common they are, and if they matter to you, you can easily check out “The Ultimate Guide to Food Intolerances” today to learn more (1).
What Types of Tests Are Available?
There are so many tests, and they each have their own unique characteristics. I want to break down each and every one, so that you can understand which might be the best for you and your health.
A food avoidance test is all about keeping track of what you are eating, noticing if you are reactive, and then avoiding that food in order to see how you feel. The problem with this test is readily apparent – if certain foods take a long time to cause a reaction, and it might be one we do not notice at all, then the test does not work. If we do not notice the reaction, how can we know to avoid the food? It is impossible. While this test might help with immediate reactions, it is probably not going to satisfy your health in the long-term. It is an easy test to implement, but it is not sustainable for our overall health.
Elimination and reintroduction diets involve cutting out a large number of foods for a period of time and then adding back in probable allergens in a controlled fashion. This way, you can clearly identify when a food is causing a reaction based on when it was reintroduced into your diet. The most common protocol for this type of diet involves doing a 10-day diet consuming nothing but rice and lamb, and then adding back in one food per every 3 days to watch for symptoms.
Some of the drawbacks for this type of diet are obvious. The process is hard to execute and it would take many months to check a significant number of foods off your “reintroduction list.” Another drawback is that when your diet is limited, your intestinal tract becomes less capable of digesting a wide array of foods. In other words, you can react to things you might not have otherwise.
Skin tests have been in common use for well over a hundred years, specifically to evaluate airborne allergens. The skin does not contain iGe, like the intestinal tract and the lungs do. The drawback is that the intestinal tract contains other immunoglobulins which are not on the skin. In this way, skin tests may show some of the most severe food intolerances (like those to peanuts). However, and because these reactions are typically so severe and so sudden, people are usually already aware of them.
There are a number of electrodermal screening tests that are used for food intolerances. The basic idea is that these tests measure how resistant the skin is to a mild, electric current, which is called galvanic skin response.
This is the same technology that is used in biofeedback and lie detector tests. The main thing that affects it is how much you are sweating. When your pores are open, you sweat, and your skin conducts electricity more readily. There have been several large published studies on electrodermal skin testing and they have been found to be less accurate than random chance.
During my medical training, I was taught on a number of electrodermal skin testing machines. It became apparent that how the operator held the machine had a large difference on the readings that were found. I was told that experienced operators would become consistent over time, which was a plausible solution to this inconsistency.
The instructors offered to test us to identify our particular reactions. I used this is as an opportunity to see how accurate the tests were, by having three different instructors test me separately – not knowing what the other results were. They all had completely different results on me, with no correlation whatsoever. Overall, this is not a type of testing I would encourage you to rely on.
Applied Kinesiology Test
These tests involve a participant holding a food or a vial containing small amounts of the food while an operator tests the strength of their muscles. Usually by having them hold her arm out to the side and the operator pushing the arm down. These have been the subject of several studies and found not to be accurate. I have also had similar personal experiences with applied kinesiology that led me to seek out other methods of diagnosis.
Pulse tests were originated by a historical naturopath named OG Carol. The process was simple: people would monitor their pulse after eating certain foods. The theory behind this was that reactive foods would cause the pulse rate to elevate. While it sounds plausible enough, in short-term reactions the heart likely would elevate soon after eating a particular food. The difficulty here is that this process would still miss the all-important delayed onset food reactions.
The other drawback is that nervousness of expectations, on the part of the participant, could also cause heart rate elevation.
The process is super simple and easy. Blood tests are performed by a simple blood draw. The patient’s immune cells are then separated from a vial of their blood and the immune cells are mixed with different food proteins. The laboratory does various measurements to see what types of reactions occur.
Nowadays, more labs are doing tests by finger sticks. In this case, it is like taking a dot of blood or a home blood glucose test – just a quick prick. A person uses a lancet to make a tiny hole in their finger and then put a few drops of blood on a special piece of cardboard which is mailed to the laboratory. These are convenient because they allow patients to do the blood tests from home, without needing to go into a blood draw center.
There are two more specific blood tests I want to talk about too:
Celiac disease can be identified through blood markers or through intestinal biopsy during endoscopy procedures. Celiac tests have a low rate of false positives, but a significant rate of false negatives. What that means is that a test may say that someone does not have it when they really do, but when the test says that they do have it, they definitely do.
Blood IgE tests are relatively accurate and consistent. The problem is they are less useful because IgE reactions are typically obvious due to their quick and severe onset.
In Conclusion: In most cases, when a doctor does a blood test for food reactions they are doing an IgE blood test. The other drawback about them is that foods that a person has avoided for long periods of time do not always show up even if they are reactive.
Let’s say that someone has a known peanut allergy. They certainly do not eat peanuts very often, and if they have not had them in their system for a few months, they may not test to be reactive even if they are. This would be called a negative test result, because it shows the person appearing to be non-reactive. However, a negative result does not prove that the person is not reactive and they would still be in danger if they ate that particular food. For these reasons, IgE blood food allergy tests are not as useful to our conversation today.
Other Blood Tests
Today, many laboratories test for a more broad range of immunological reactions to food. These include:
- And many others
The idea behind these tests is an excellent one. It would be helpful to know how the body responds to foods in ways that are not always apparent. However, these labs can vary tremendously in their accuracy.
This goes back to what I learned about when I assisted in that food intolerance lab in 1996. I saw that subtle differences in an operator’s technique could lead to big differences in results.
Because of this, I felt conflicted about relying on testing. I wanted people to know about the ways foods could affect them, but I wanted to be sure that they were getting the most accurate information possible. This caused me to spend some more time testing many laboratories.
The process that I have used is simple. I will check the same person’s blood multiple times through the same laboratory, using different names. I have used myself the most, mostly for convenience but also because I have more data to compare against.
In a typical scenario, I will draw two tubes from my blood and put a fake name on one of the test tubes. Mind you, it is fun to make up imaginary identifies and names, but I try not to get too creative so I do not arouse suspicion.
If the results come back showing that Alan Christianson and John Doe (the name I made up) both have the same food reactions, then the lab did well. The thing that saddens me the most is to tell you that this is usually not the case. Well over 95% of the labs I have seen give completely different results on the same patient when they are tested more than once in the same day.
In Conclusion: From trial and error, the labs we use at Integrative Health include the FIT Test from KBMO and food intolerance tests from USBiotek and Meridian Valley Labs.
Do I Need To Test More Than Once?
The fact of the matter is that food reactions can change over time. When someone does have a high number of reactions and significant digestive symptoms, it might be helpful to test several times a year – while working hard to avoid reactive foods and heal the intestinal tract.
For those who have fewer symptoms and a lower number of reactions, annual screening is most often adequate.
Want to know the actions steps you can take for food intolerance testing? Here is what you can do:
- Get tested each year for celiac and food intolerances. Even if you are healthy, changes in the intestines can be the origin of many chronic diseases, such as: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
- As soon as you are ware of any changes, come in as soon as you can and start taking steps to help preserve your long-term health.
In Conclusion: It is better to have a broader range of healthy natural foods in the diet rather than a narrow range. It is not only difficult to avoid foods altogether, it does compromise the health of your flora and your body’s nutritional status.
Reset Your Health Today
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Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.