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Managing Food Intolerance: The Pros and Cons of the ALCAT test

by John Richardson(more info)

listed in allergy testing, originally published in issue 109 - March 2005

Even with the last 50 years of scientific breakthrough, new techniques in surgery and fantastic new drugs to cure almost every ailment and disease, it seems that more and more people are having to live with health issues that western, scientific medicine isn't able to deal with successfully.

Suffering with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine, skin complaints, mood swings, chronic fatigue, and after many unproductive trips to the GP, an ever increasing number of people are searching elsewhere for a solution to their problem and a huge number of those are looking at food.

We know it's the food that's making us ill and we're working hard to try to correct it, but from what I'm seeing on a day-to-day basis, we're still not there yet. I meet people every week who complain of uncomfortable bloating after eating, or migraines when they eat certain foods, or having huge energy crashes after some meals but not others. People are sensitive to their foods – they know that much – but they don't seem to know which ones or what to do about it.

Alcat Process

21st Century

In the UK, we have 10,000 chemicals and additives in our food chain now that we didn't have 50 years ago. Our soil contains 85 per cent fewer minerals than it did 100 years ago and the choice of highly processed, irradiated, chemically fiddled with foods is mind blowing.

It seems to me that we have to start from a bench-mark and say that any of the above is going to be problematic. Unfortunately, it isn't yet common knowledge that our bodies need nutrients in optimum quantities for health and that ingesting toxins, additives and artificial chemicals causes damage which increases that requirement for high quality foods.

Most of our food is nutrient deficient and toxin rich, and when combined with the increased stress of the 21st century, the solutions to the problems many are facing go way beyond choosing grass reared certified organic, healthy, happy meat to eat.

Those who are suffering from the general malaise of IBS, migraine, brain fog, obesity and the like need more specific help than simply the advice to eat organic and drink clean water. I've worked with a number of people for whom the bloating and headaches is simply too much coffee and too few nutrients. Simple solutions there. But then there are those who don't touch stimulants, eat organic, drink alcohol only at Christmas and on birthdays and are always in bed by 10.30pm who are still crippled by a catalogue of seemingly unattributable malaise.

Now, I'm a great believer in starting off with simple advice and remedies. "How much water are you drinking?" is always question number one, but for some people the complexities of poorly functioning human physiology require much more complex solutions, even if the advice is kept to its simplest terms.

In our 21st century, with its 21st century health profiles there is tremendous amount of evidence that supports the theories that our bodies are taking unexplained and illogical dislikes or 'sensitivities' to normal, everyday, 'healthy' foods and that these sensitivities are what is causing the general malaise we and our clients are suffering from.

The specifics of where these sensitivities come from, heavy metals, agricultural chemicals, electro magnetic stress, is less important than the simple conclusion that we don't live like we used to and certainly not how we evolved. I feel it is also worth mentioning here that I have never met the chronic IBS sufferer who was that interested in the evolution of man's V machines, modern agriculture, microwaves, mobile phones, the light bulb, industrial chemicals, blah, blah, blah – mainly because a chronic IBS sufferer doesn't have the time to sit there and listen. What they need is some relief – in oh so many ways, and they need it now!

To attain a quick solution to this problem, the elimination of these 'healthy' trigger foods is essential. Indeed, I have had clients who have been living with persistent migraines which have seen them bed-ridden three times a week become asymptomatic within ten days, once following the correct elimination diet.

In a particular case, by identifying these trigger foods and eliminating them, one lady's migraines cleared up, her irritable bowel problem disappeared completely and she lost over a stone in bodyweight.

Elimination Diets

The popular press is full of articles and advertisements which focus our attention on new ways to eat for better health or new products to eat for an increase in well-being and vitality. All of our supermarkets have aisles which are dedicated to wheat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free and are stocked with organic, non-GM biscuits to cream cakes. In fact the elimination diet seems to be a very popular path that sufferers are going down already but it does seem to be a bit hit-and-miss to say the least.

We all know of a friend or colleague who cut out bread for a week and felt significantly healthier for it, or the person who was sure it was cheese or coffee that was to blame for her malaise. In most cases cutting out cheese, coffee and bread, whilst it brings an improvement, doesn't solve the problem completely.

The problems with gluten, casein, dehydration and caffeine are not to be underestimated but we're not talking about putting bad stuff in, to which the body reacts with an appropriate defence. We're talking about the body deciding that normally health-building foods are invaders and issuing forth an inappropriate defence with very uncomfortable side effects.

In fact there is strong evidence to suggest that sensitivities are unique to the individual and seemingly as irrational as you could imagine. It's not that the food is bad for you but rather that your body irrationally doesn't like the food. t might not be just wheat or dairy as the media have targeted, but it could be carrot or black pepper or turkey or apples or anything.

How To Identify Trigger Foods

But how would you know? The traditionalists would have us go on an elimination diet. Cut back to a very bland diet for a week or two, of rice, pear, pork and peas. Then week by week reintroduce one food at a time and monitor your body's reactions. This has to be by far the most laborious and unsuccessful method I have ever come across to establish food sensitivities. I really feel for anyone who has been advised to go through this; it really can't be fun.

For a therapist it must be a nightmare if this is the only weapon in your food sensitivity arsenal. There can only be one in a hundred sufferers/clients who have the time, energy and willpower to put themselves through such an ordeal, not to mention the inaccuracy of it due to delayed reactions – eat trigger food on Friday, migraine on Monday.

What if you react badly to rice or pork or pear or peas and your symptoms never go away? What if you slip up on your diet and are forced to eat a chicken salad sandwich whilst out one day? Do you go back to the beginning and start again or do you now include chicken, lettuce, tomato and bread as safe? Even if you stick to the plan, to be able to safely eat only 100 foods you would have to be following the diet for two years and consider how unbalanced that diet would be for the first six months. All in all not the best method, but then what do you do?

Well, this is the 21st century and there are some very clever people living in it. Some of them have come up with specific tests that will tell you if you are reactive to certain foods or not. Some of these tests seem to have much more scientific, theoretical and practical weight behind them than others and I think that this is important. Those with the most to speak of are the collection of blood tests that look to measure immune reaction in one way or another to the introduction of the 'trigger' foods/chemicals/moulds/substances.

For a number of years now, I have been using a blood test with my clients to assess their food sensitivities and I have found it to be very successful. The test is called an ALCAT test and it measures degranulation within the white blood cell when bloods are mixed with one of the 100 trigger foods tested for. (The most commonly eaten foods in the UK although ALCAT can also test for sensitivity to chemicals, moulds and dental metals).

The advantage to using a test which observed degranulation overlooking for specific immune responses, such as IgG or IgE, is that these different antibodies are not the only ones and their rolls have been linked to a host of different reactions and under differing circumstances.

The problem here is that we don't know which antibody reacts inwhich way to which trigger to cause irritable bowel syndrome or migraine or arthritic joint pain. The research, as yet, is unable to tell us if we should look for an IgG, IgE,

IgA, IgM or IgD to solve the problem Mrs Jones gets after eating one meal in four.

As degranulation is a precursor to an immune response we can pre-empt which antibody does what and just say that food X causes degranultation to occur to this degree and therefore, Mrs Jones, we recommend that you don't eat food X.

When you can get a list of foods that are really causing a problem in a person's life, then plan a menu that doesn't contain them. If you call them up a week or so later, you will speak to a very happy person indeed.

Do What Works

I decided to use blood tests with my clients because of the advantages of specificity. I decided to use the ALCAT test with my clients, not because of the science of which antibody does what, but because I tried others and they didn't do the job. Since then I've seen people's lives really change for the better using ALCAT testing.

None of these conditions of general malaise are any fun at all; they take over people's lives and squeeze the joy out of them. Some of my clients have reacted very strongly to coriander, some to chicken, some to potato. I had some results back recently where somebody has a severe reaction to strawberry and leek!

The results are never the same, so there couldn't be just a book you could read or a 'one-size-fits-all' diet plan to follow. But when eight or nine out of ten people's conditions are so improved that they feel like they have their lives back and all this energy to celebrate the fact with, it's very worth it. Even the one or two who aren't completely sorted out say that they feel so much better on the plan even if it's not a complete solution.

People need to be tested for their own individual trigger foods, and if it means that you go without cheese or lamb, or broccoli for a while, it's hardly the end of the world. I don't eat bread any more and I feel fantastic because of it. It's not hard to do; I just look at the sandwich and know that if I eat that it will make me feel lousy. I do not smoke for exactly the same reason.

If you are a sufferer, the relation or friend of a sufferer or a health practitioner, and if you suspect the problem is a food sensitivity, then I urge you to look beyond the articles in the popular press that say white flour and pasteurized milk are bad – they are but that's likely to be just the tip of the iceberg – there is a test out there that really can make the difference.

By correctly identifying the foods in our diets that are beating us up and then by not eating them we can get back missing get up and go. Enjoy the health and energy levels that we all deserve.


Brostoff and Gamlin. The Complete Guide to Food Allergy and Intolerance. Bloomsbury Pub. 1998.
Emersley and Fell. Was It Something You Ate? Oxford University Press. 1999.
Rivera and Deutsch. Your Hidden Food Allergies Are Making You Fat. Prima Publishing. 2002.
Wolcottt and Fahey. The Metabolic Typing Diet. Broadway Books. 2000.
Chek P. You Are What You Eat. CD series. The Chek Institute. 2003.

Further Information

ALCAT UK Ltd. Tel: 024-76320 333


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About John Richardson

John Richardson has a diploma in sports sciences from the Crewe and Alsager Faculty of Manchester Metropolitan University and has held positions at most levels of the fitness industry, from leisure attendant to centre owner/manager. He now runs Trainers121Fitness Training in East Yorkshire in the UK, a versatile organization committed as much to customer service and performance as it is to constant development and education. He can be contacted on Mobile: 07866 807098;

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