Food intolerance testing refers to a group of tests that you can do if you suspect that you might be sensitive or intolerant to certain foods. Do you sometimes get that bloated feeling, a nagging headache, or just feeling unusually tired after eating?
Well, you’re not alone. Many of us go through similar experiences, often wondering what could be causing it. The difficulty here is that, unlike specific allergy testing, there is often no single test to diagnose food intolerance. The diagnosis and management process is more about excluding more serious causes of the symptoms.
Once other conditions such as food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, or more serious illnesses have been excluded, we can consider a possible food intolerance diagnosis.
Whether you’ve been battling unexplained digestive issues, various skin problems, or tiredness, finally understanding what could be causing your symptoms could be life-changing. So let’s get started.
Symptoms of food intolerance
Imagine you’ve just had a glass of milk or a slice of whole wheat bread, and suddenly, you don’t feel quite right. You may have some on and off cramps, bloating or your stomach could be rumbling.
Unlike food allergies, which happen due to an immune system response to an allergen, and can result in severe reactions, food intolerances are more about the digestive system saying, “Nope, I can’t handle this.”
Common symptoms of food intolerance include:
- Digestive issues like bloating, excessive gas, stomach pain including cramps diarrhoea or constipation. Imagine you’ve just had a meal, and instead of feeling satisfied, you end up with a stomach ache or rushing to the bathroom. That’s your digestive system’s way of waving a red flag.
- Skin issues such as eczema, rashes or hives after eating.
- Fatigue, lack of energy or feeling sluggish, headaches and migraines, etc.
- Mood Changes: Feeling irritable or experiencing mood swings can also be linked to food intolerances. It’s as if what you eat not only affects your body but your emotions too.
Common causes of food intolerance
The usual suspects behind food intolerances include dairy products, gluten, certain fruits, and foods that can cause gas buildup. The causative factors will vary from person to person though, there is no general rule.
Types of Food Intolerance Tests
Having measured food allergy testing before, I have to reiterate that there are no fully conclusive tests for food intolerance.
The diagnosis is often made once other diagnoses that can be tested for, have been excluded.
The Food Intolerance Diagnosis Journey
So, you’re ready to take the plunge and figure out once and for all what’s been causing those odd after-meal feelings. What can you expect? Let’s walk through the process together.
Initial consultation with an allergist or dietician
First things first; once you have a consultation booked to address your food intolerances, we will get the lowdown on your symptoms and eating habits.
This establishes the foundation of what your diet is like, and what symptoms you are exhibiting. We will also address your concerns about food intolerance and your ideas about what the causative factors might be.
Based on the history and any tests you might have already done, we will discuss the next most appropriate tests.
Important tests to rule out more serious causes of your symptoms should be done either before or following the initial consultation. These are often done by your GP.
- Coeliac screen – this blood test checks for coeliac disease
- Faecal Calprotectin – this stool test is to check for inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
- FIT Test – Another stool tests that GPs will sometimes request, depending on age and symptoms to rule out bowel cancer.
- CA-125 – this blood test is sometimes done in women over 50 who complain of abdominal pain, bloating and some other specific symptoms, to rule out ovarian cancer.
Skin prick testing might also be indicated here depending on the symptoms you are concerned about. This might be appropriate if you have symptoms such as lip-tingling, lip swelling, hives or urticarial rash, itchy throat, and so on. Essentially, any symptom that could also mean that you have an allergy means that you would also need allergy testing done for the possible causative allergens. Oral Allergy Syndrome must also be excluded if you are known to have hay fever or other allergies to tree pollen.
An elimination diet is the next step if the investigations so far have been negative. This is when you play detective, removing suspect foods from your diet and observing.
If an elimination diet is required, then regular follow-ups with your allergist or dietician are required so your symptoms can be monitored. It is also important to keep a symptom diary and to record anything that you have eaten before getting the symptoms.
Living with food intolerances
Finding out you have a food intolerance can be a game-changer. But it’s not just about saying goodbye to certain foods; it’s about welcoming new ones into your life.
The two most common food intolerances are lactose and gluten. Here is a table showing you some foods to avoid, and new foods to try.
You could try these new foods either during the elimination diet period or after you have received the diagnosis as part of your ongoing management.
|Foods to Avoid
|Foods to Enjoy
|Milk, cheese, yogurt
|Lactose-free alternatives, almond milk, coconut yogurt
|Wheat, barley, rye
|Gluten-free breads, quinoa, rice
Why food intolerance testing kits DON’T WORK
Companies such as York Test and many non-medical providers offer IgG testing as a means of food intolerance diagnosis. Advertised as a simple way to identify food intolerances, these tests promise to pinpoint exactly which foods are causing you trouble, all from the convenience of your home.
However, there is simply no scientific evidence that these tests work. Many published studies have in fact shown that there is no correlation between a positive test and an intolerance to the specific food.
The Science Behind IgG
IgG antibodies are a type of antibody produced by our immune system as a response to pretty much everything we eat. Yes, you read that right. If you consume a food regularly, chances are you’ll have raised IgG antibodies to it. But here’s the kicker: having IgG antibodies to a particular food doesn’t necessarily mean your body is intolerant to it. It’s in fact normal to have high IgG antibodies to certain foods, and this does not cause any problems.
All major health organisations and allergy experts agree that there is not enough evidence linking IgG antibodies to food intolerance. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology calls it “the myth of IgG testing“.
Relying on these tests could lead you down the wrong path, eliminating foods from your diet that are perfectly fine for you. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.
Furthermore, it can lead you to miss the real culprit in causing your symptoms!
Why discussing with an expert is important
Discussing your food intolerance concerns with a doctor or qualified dietician is better than trying to manage it all on your own.
The internet is a treasure trove of uncontrolled information, and this can lead to confusion and misinformation. Moreso, if you undertake the journey by yourself, this could lead to inappropriately avoiding certain types of foods and later on to nutritional deficiencies down the line.
Understanding and managing food intolerances can be a life-enhancing journey. It’s not just about eliminating symptoms, it’s also about improving your quality of life and regaining the energy you once had before these food intolerance symptoms started!
Feeling inspired to get to the bottom of your food-related mysteries? Our team at Holistic Allergy in Bournemouth is here to guide you every step of the way. Reach out for a chat, and let’s start this journey together. Because everyone deserves to enjoy their meals, worry-free.