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Follow your gut with a food intolerance test

Tuesday, 12th February, 2013 5:05pm
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Follow your gut with a food intolerance test
By Jackie Keogh

IT WAS probably a reporter with The Irish Times who said it best when he said his food intolerance test showed up a fairly serious intolerance to dairy products and eggs – something that came as a bit of a shock to him, having been down the irritable bowel, stomach ulcer and early-morning-queasiness road for many years, and having taken to drinking vast quantities of milk and eating mountains of scrambled egg in a misguided attempt to improve his digestive situation.

Reporters with The Irish Times are as likely to be as misguided as the rest of us because when it comes to food intolerances, you can actually end up craving the very food and drink substances that are causing you problems to begin with.

In a kind attempt to inform and educate this reporter, pharmacist Noelle Madden offered a food intolerance test – the kind that is forensic in its approach and is laboratory-based.

Noelle explained that the term food allergy is used to describe cases in which a person has an almost instantaneous reaction to food, or at least within the hour. ‘The reaction is obvious and often quite violent. You can, for example, develop a swollen lip or becoming violently sick after eating shellfish.

‘Such foods can never be eaten again. But true food allergies are quite rare. They affect only a small percentage of the population and most often develop during childhood.

‘The term food intolerance, on the other hand, affects a great number of people and can develop at any time of life. The symptoms of food intolerance rarely occur immediately after the food is eaten. In fact, the reaction is usually delayed by many hours or even many days.

‘For example,’ Noelle said, ‘cheese eaten on a Monday could be the trigger for Wednesday’s asthma attack. It is these delayed reactions, which make the detection of the culprit foods a very difficult task without the help of expert laboratory testing.’

As someone who spent the first decade of her working life existing on convenient bread and cheese, followed by the equally habitual coffee and nicotine, it came as no surprise that one of the foods flagged by the food intolerance test was, in fact, dairy.

The test was carried out by Fitzwilliam FoodTest – a Dublin-based clinic that offers over 25 years of experience in food intolerance testing and treatment – of which Noelle Madden’s pharmacy in Rosscarbery is a respected agent.

Noelle explained that the intolerance begins when the digestive system is no longer able to process particular foods as they pass down the digestive tract and the end result is a build-up of many poisonous intestinal toxins.


This toxic intestinal mix eventually escapes into the bloodstream and are then carried throughout the body where they cause infection and inflammation in other organs and bodily systems.

‘If you find the particular food or foods, and the degree of intolerance it or they are causing,’ Noelle said, ‘you have the chance to stop the toxicity continuing by eliminating the problem food or drink over an eight-week to 12-week period.’

Intolerance to a certain food means it will not be broken down properly so larger molecules of food will get to the person’s lower gut and cause the development of ‘bad’ bacteria.

This upsets the natural balance of gut flora so that the number of bad bacteria exceeds the number of good bacteria and prevents them from assisting the body to break down food.

If inflammation develops in the gut, a leaky gut may ensue and this can cause large particles of food to be absorbed into the person’s bloodstream. This, in turn, can provoke an inflammatory response elsewhere and lead to a variety of ailments such as migraine, asthma and eczema.

People who have food intolerance issues generally have two or three primary foods causing all of their problems, along with a small number of secondary foods.

Two tests

There are two types of tests available: the first food test takes in 40 food types covering a broad spectrum including grains, dairy, meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and yeast, but the second is very comprehensive and tests no fewer than 93 items covering every kind of food and every kind of condiment imaginable.

Some people are drawn to the food intolerance test because they have reached their limit in terms of dealing with a variety of health problems such as sinusitis, indigestion, tiredness, pre-menstrual tension, hay fever, irritable bowel, depression, tension, Candida, asthma, stomach complaints, acne, ME, skin problems, arthritis, excess weight, and obesity.

The transformative effects of changing one’s diet to avoid food intolerances can be dramatic. It is early days yet for me, but I know a few people who have done the test and, to a man, they have been hugely impressed by the results.

Noelle explains that foods that appear to be causing some degree of inflammation need to be stopped for eight weeks, and foods that are causing a large inflammatory reaction need to be taken out of their diet for a minimum of three months.

‘After the relevant period of abstinence from the offending food, the person usually feels better than they have in a very long time but may, if they wish, try re-introducing one food at a time. One way or another, his or her body will very quickly let them know if that food works for them or not.’

All it takes is a few drops of blood and a few minutes of your time, and the food intolerance test can reveal a whole lot of information about the effect the foods we eat are having on our bodies and give us the opportunity to change and improve our overall health and well-being.