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  • Catherine Pohl

Intolerance testing - and why I hate it!

Here’s the thing… I have seen intolerance tests cause a lot of harm, both physically and psychologically. It is my professional opinion that they should not be available to the general public for this reason. But how and why?

Full disclosure - I have and do use intolerance tests with clients. When we have worked and worked on gut health but still can’t quite get things right, I may recommend one. Because in rare circumstances there’s a reaction happening regularly that is been strong enough to hinder progress, but not obvious enough to identify (or perhaps cold hard evidence was needed for motivation). That’s when an intolerance test is right and also brilliant.

If I'm entirely honest, I have also used intolerance tests with clients that specifically asked to do them. My interpretation did allow them to get some meaningful data from them, but they would not have been my first recommendation and in all likelihood my experience now would push back harder and really recommend something better instead. So if you are looking to do one, you probably won’t get far with me! But if you are interested in doing one… please read on.

Reactions to food (non-allergic) are actually quite normal when you break things down . The lining of the gut is a very intricate and delicate barrier of closely-packed cells, a protective mucosal layer and a whole ecosystem of commensal microbes (“friendly" bacteria and more). All these factors contribute to ensuring that our body absorbs the nutrients it needs from the food we eat, in the right way, and defends itself against infections and other threats.

Image from The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Volume 63, January 2019, Pages 101-108

When something disrupts this delicate balance, particles can pass through this barrier inappropriately. They may be perfectly harmless particles of healthy food, but they can slip through the gut lining in the wrong way. When this happens, the body mounts an immune response. Here’s the thing though, it’s actually an appropriate immune response in most cases.

This in turn, causes further inflammation and can degrade the protective barrier further meaning that more and more particles pass through inappropriately and well, the immune system can get super busy... lots of inflammation causing the symptoms you experience such as bloating and discomfort etc.

So if you do a food intolerance test now, guess what? You will get a lot of hits. You will get hits for many, many of the foods you are eating. And you will get negatives for foods you haven’t been eating, simply because they weren’t there and not because you won’t react if you eat them. You might well react to them in fact, especially if you start eating them a lot.

Not only is this test unhelpful, I hope you can also see how it can also be dangerous. From a physical perspective, restricting lots of foods can mean that your body stops getting vital nutrients that it needs. Plus, I hope this helps to explain why it won’t really help in the long run - just avoiding foods is not going to help get to the bottom of why gut barrier integrity was compromised in the first place, so the problem may persist when you do try to reintroduce foods or may get worse necessiting the removal of even more foods.

Psychologically, this can also be dangerous. That's the real prompt for me writing this post in the first place. Yet again this week, I've seen another client that has run a test on their own and become overwhelmed by the results. Restricting foods in vast numbers is incredibly stressful and fuels anxiety. Plus it's entirely pointless when it doesn’t even yield results.

Do I recommend removing certain healthy foods from people’s diets? Absolutely I do when working on a gut-healing programme BUT this is only for a short period of time AND I can ensure that they get important nutrients from other sources so that their diet stays balanced and supportive of their whole body health.

I hope this helps, and if it resonates with you, please feel free to book a 15 minute free call with me to discuss how I help my clients with digestive issues, be that diagnosed or otherwise*. My 12-week transformation package includes a state of the art, science-backed stool test from Invivo Healthcare and gives meaningful results to inform a tailor-made programme for digestive recovery that is personalised to YOU.

*Please note that my advice does not in any way constitute medical advice and does not replace seeing your doctor.


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