Food Sensitivity Series (PART 3)
FOOD SENSITIVITY TESTING
Food sensitivity testing is a hot topic and this is the very reason for this article series. Now that you have been equipped with a brief knowledge of our immune system and gastrointestinal system we can move onto the science, facts, and controversies around food sensitivity testing.
There are 3 main types of testing currently available on the market as of 2018 and each testing method will test for different parts of our immune system by using different methods. Below are the facts about each one. Currently, there is more research occurring daily by many labs across the world coming up with new methods and updates to current testing methods. The reason there are various types of tests is there is no general consensus on which testing method is best.
The 3 main types of food sensitivity testing
ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. This testing method is done by either collecting blood serum or a dried blood spot. It measures the level of immunoglobulin binding, or lack thereof, response when a food or food component is introduced to your blood. This method most commonly tests IgG’s, IgA, and complements. Some labs also test for IgE responses. Which immunoglobulin being measured is variable from lab to lab and practitioner to practitioner. The debate lies in which immunoglobulins are tested which is decided ultimately up to your healthcare provider. Different healthcare providers have been trained differently and have had lectures from various labs thus creating the diversity in what they believe is the best test and method. Ultimately, your healthcare provider should be well versed in all of the various types and the different labs so they order the right lab for you. You will find numerous lab companies that offer these tests with various foods, chemicals, and additives at varying prices.
ALCAT stands for A Live Cell Analysis Test. This test measures white blood cell changes when exposed to a certain food. This test requires a blood draw. In this technique, the patient's white blood cells are put on a plate and exposed to a food, or food additive. A white blood cell will release its components in response to an insult or will have no response if it is exposed to something ‘normal’. Any change to the size of the white blood cell is recorded and measured as a response or sensitivity. The ALCAT testing equipment is patented and offered only through one lab at a set price.
MRT stands for Mediator Release Test. This testing procedure and method is almost the same as ALCAT testing. Both ALCAT and MRT testing was invented by the same person, Dr. Mark Pasula. Dr. Pasula let the patent lapse on his ALCAT testing and claims to have improved the technology and testing methods, which he patented and called it the MRT test. Is the MRT test better than the ALCAT test? The jury is still out. Studies show it is a more sensitive and specific test than ALCAT because the technology is more sensitive to the white blood cell changes, therefore, producing less false results. If this technology truly is superior, which means it would be a better test, then yes, it would be preferred over the ALCAT test. The downside to these studies is that most of it is performed and results are provided by the same lab that offers MRT testing so there are research and testing bias involved in these results. This test is offered by only one lab at a set price.
What type of test to choose
As stated above, there are many labs to choose from and some of which are direct to consumer labs. It is ALWAYS advisable to go through a trained healthcare professional such as a certified dietician-nutritionist, a functional medicine MD, DO, DC, or ND. A lot of times the direct to consumer labs (the labs where anyone can go online and order) are more expensive, use lower quality testing methods, and they do not test for as many sensitivities as others so you are getting less bang for your buck. Plus, these labs do not offer the individualized care to take each patient through an elimination diet and reintroduction like a healthcare provider would.
So which test is best? Ah, the debate begins! Again, no test is 100% accurate and the best accurate measure of what is tolerable to you is measured by your symptom response. All testing methods have their discrepancies and fall short in one way or another. As with all of these labs, when you are trying to measure an intolerance, you can get a response with a tolerance. This means you can get a false positive on a food you eat a lot that is not actually a trigger or intolerance. Another variability is some labs do not test cooked proteins vs raw proteins (raw egg vs cooked egg) which can result in a false positive or false negative. One other thing to consider is that different lab’s test for different foods. One test may test for eggplant whereas the next one may not. Going into an appointment with already an idea of a few suspected triggers is helpful to discuss so your provider can find a food panel that covers more of the foods you suspect to be causing your symptoms. Another issue comes down to provider incentives. Some of the listed labs actually give providers monetary incentives when they order their labs so there is also some providers that choose a test over others because of the extra money they make.
Ultimately, you want a provider that is familiar with the test they choose and chooses it for the quality results as well as making sure it is going to provide you, the patient, with the information you need to heal.
Other things to consider
Is a food sensitivity test the right test for everyone? Nope! Keep in mind the test is a guide and not a rule book. What you find on your test results are by no means the facts and you must follow them. There are errors in all lab testing and more so in food sensitivity lab testing. The testing methods and technology seems to improve daily in today's technology age but in the end, no test will ever be perfect. If you experience a lot of the symptoms described in Part 1 you may also need additional testing in other areas of your health. These tests and topics include, but are not limited to, intestinal permeability, environmental pollutants, parasites, yeast or candida, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), heavy metals, and histamine exposures. These are just a few of the other tests and areas that can be explored.
People who go through the testing and elimination and come out on the other end having effectively eliminated their symptoms usually have done more than just take out foods. Our health goes beyond just what we ingest, absorb, and inhabit. We must practice stress reduction techniques, self-care time, optimize mental health as well as physical health. It all comes together to make up you and addressing all aspects is essential to healing and carrying forward with healthy lifestyle changes.
Are food sensitivities forever? Sometimes yes, sometimes no! Some people do actually find that after their inner skin is healed they are able to tolerate those foods they once found irritating or symptom producing and once again can find joy in all foods.
I want you to identify the cause of your symptoms, get symptom-free, and to never have to experience those symptoms again. Every person has their own journey and experience, therefore, the path you take to getting back to your optimal wellness is your own and should be treated as such so find the doctor that is right for you to start you on the journey to feeling better.
Here to empower you with the knowledge of healthiness,
Carry onto PART 4 for our case study of a 52-year-old female with an 8-year history of migraines, insomnia, and stomach cramping
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.