When I was working on the floor of the health food shop I would often get people coming in looking for allergy testing. Now I am the clinic I still get many people asking about what kind of allergy testing that I do.
My answer is that I usually use diet and gut repair work as a foundation of allergy repair and management. My response is usually met with a look of disappointment or even confusion. People seem to have the misconception that if they just find out what the one thing is that they are reacting to, they can simply avoid this substance for the rest of their lives and they will be cured.
The unfortunate thing is that it doesn’t work like that, and here’s why:
First of all the gold standard in allergy testing is an elimination diet. That goes for the most prestigious allergy clinics and hospitals as well as Naturopathic practitioners. The reason why most Doctors or hospitals don’t put people on elimination diets for allergies is simply because they think it’s too hard. Mainstream medicine just doesn’t have the time to support people through the process.
That is why I formulated my 12 week Gut health program. The benefits of an elimination diet is that it removes all likely reactive foods, it is the gold standard in medical care for allergies/intolerance's, it repairs the gut at the same time as finding reactive foods, reintroducing foods one at a time helps you take control of symptoms.
I have researched extensively on gut health and have put together a plan that incorporates the most successful diets for managing digestive symptoms and healing & sealing the gut lining. As well as following and elimination diet my plan includes the GAPS diet (Dr Natasha Campbell McBride), the Low FODMAP diet ( Dr Sue Shepherd) and the Autoimmune Paleo Diet- AIP (Dr. Loren Cordain).
To book in for my Gut Health program or to make an appointment to discuss your health go here
If you are reacting to a food or even an inhaled allergen, then you most probably have a leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability), so you are most likely reacting to a multitude of foods/substances, and taking those substances away won’t solve your underlying problem.
Think of it like this; if you are pouring milk through a cracked bowl, will changing from milk to water solve the problem of the liquid running through the cracks? The water may be less reactive, but if you don’t seal up the cracks in the gut/mucous membrane the immune system will actually begin to react to the most benign substance.
If a person with a leaky gut comes in for a food intolerance test, they are likely to have almost every food that they have been eating come up as reactive. This is because bits of almost all the food that they are eating is passing not fully digested into the bloodstream. The results of these tests can cause a lot of confusion and heartache for people who aren’t fully aware about why they are reacting to everything, and the amount of foods that they assume they will now need to remove from their diet can be just too overwhelming.
Remember for those with hay fever/asthma/eczema and dermatitis, the mucous membrane in the digestive system is very similar to the mucous membrane in the nasal cavity, both are closely related to the skin; all can be reactive and inflamed.
Right about now I probably should say that I do offer allergy/food intolerance testing in clinic. I do think there is a place for it.
But what I don’t understand is why many people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on testing before determining which test will be the right one! It’s vitally important to have an understanding of how an allergy test works in order to determine which test, if any, is the best one for you. That is why I sit down with people for a full hour (sometimes more) before I advise on testing. A small investment upfront and getting the right information is worth it, before you go down the path of spending hundreds on tests!
The number one thing to know is that when we do an allergy/intolerance test of any kind, is that we are observing the immune system’s response to stimuli.
The particular part of the immune system we are looking at are the immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are part of the blood that function as “antibodies”. Antibodies combine chemically with substances which the body recognises as alien, such as bacteria, viruses, and foreign substances in the blood. I like to think of these immunoglobulins like big boofy rugby players that tackle and hold onto a foreign substance until it can be removed by the body. Imagine thousands of these guys piling up in the mucous membrane, skin or gut tissue; that is what inflammation looks like.
There are a few different immunoglobulins that have differing functions, the following are the main ones that we look at in allergies/hay fever/food sensitivities;
Immunoglobulin A (IgA): IgA is found most prevalently in the mucous membranes of the body (mouth, digestive tract, vagina)and is mostly found in secretions such as saliva, tears, colostrum, mucous, sweat and gastric fluid. IgA is the first line of defence against viruses and bacteria. IgA is found abundantly in the first breast milk. It gives the newborn baby antibodies to substances that are exposed to both the mother and child in the first months of life. Increased IgA activity in the gut can be caused by an active viral infection or it could be a sign of an inflamed damaged gut lining. Not enough IgA can be a sign of lowered immunity and points to adrenal exhaustion. Secretary IgA is a really interesting topic, which I'd like to discuss in detail another time.
Immunoglobulin G (IgG): IgG is the most abundant immunoglobulin in the body and is found everywhere, in blood, cerebrospinal fluid and lymph. IgG is what passes between a mother and her unborn foetus and gives the baby the mother's immunity. IgG antibodies produce a delayed response and stay around in the system for a long time and can show past infections or vaccination history. IgG interacts with other parts of the immune system to regulate anaphylactic response.
IgG testing is what a lot of Naturopath's use to find food and inhaled sensitivities. These may be vague, delayed responses, or seemingly unrelated symptoms that don’t seem to correlate to exposure. You may even be having IgG reactions to foods without any apparent symptoms. This kind of low level continued inflammation could play into immune dysregulation down the track (remember that one of IgG's roles is to regulate anaphylactic response) and is a sign that some digestive function needs to be restored. It’s important to remember that before doing an IgG test, you should eat a large variety of foods in the two weeks prior to testing. You may get a false negative if you haven’t had recent exposure to a food.
Immunoglobulin E (IgE): This is the least common antibody and is the reason for the typical anaphylactic allergic responses that happen quickly after exposure to an allergen. IgE are mostly found in the lungs, skin and mucous membranes. A typical IgE response is wheezing, swelling, excessive tears, asthma, rhinitis, eczema, hives and dermatitis. Some parasitic infections (worms) can cause a raised IgG response. IgE is what is measured when you go for a skin prick test. IgE testing (otherwise known as RAST) is the only kind of allergy testing recognised by mainstream medicine in Australia.
The reason that mainstream medicine doesn't recognise IgG and IgA testing as valid forms of testing for allergies is because studies carried out showed that you can have IgG and IgA reactions to foods and other substances without necessarily having typical symptoms of allergy. Unfortunately mainstream medicine is not great at recognising immune sensitivities or low grade chronic inflammation as health risk factors.
You can see how important it is to know what you are looking for before you send out for a test kit.
Why not get in touch with me? I'd be happy to talk you through your options.
Melanie Turner, Naturopath, mother, gardener, lover of wholesome food