Food Intolerance Testing for Chronic Health Issues: Tiny's Review of Cambridge Nutritional Sciences FoodPrint200+
This is not a sponsored post - I have not been paid to write it. Please note that I am not a doctor and you should always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional before embarking on any kind of dietary changes. Please also note that food intolerance tests are not designed to diagnose or treat any medical conditions.
Hello! I’m sure I must have mentioned food intolerances in some of my previous blogs; however, I haven’t yet written a dedicated post about them. I thought I would rectify that this month, because I recently had a very positive experience with a company called Cambridge Nutritional Sciences, who offer IgG mediated food intolerance testing. I never thought there was much point me writing about food intolerances if I couldn’t recommend a testing facility, but now that I have had such a good experience with this laboratory, I feel comfortable in giving the subject my full attention! It feels like a good time to do it in any case, as many of you will have made New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthily!
Regular readers will know that I drive home ad nauseum the importance of addressing gut health when dealing with any kind of chronic health problem. It is my belief that most health issues, including interstitial cystitis, have a digestive component to them and can therefore be improved with appropriate dietary changes and gut healing protocols. Many bladder pain sufferers are already aware of a connection between their diet and symptoms and follow the IC Diet. (See this post to find out why I don’t rate the IC diet and this one to learn about the dietary approaches I recommend instead.) However, if you have already eliminated common food allergens from your diet, followed a gut healing protocol and still seem to be struggling with stubborn health issues, food intolerances could well be a factor. Indeed, food intolerances are known to be quite common in IC patients, although I’ve struggled to find concrete statistics on the matter owing to the fact that many doctors don’t believe in them and many people wrongly refer to intolerances as allergies.
On that note, before I get to the main part of the post, I want to discuss the difference between allergies, IgG intolerances and non-IgG intolerances for those who don’t already know. In the interest of brevity, I’ll keep it super simple.
Different types of foods wear different types of protein jackets with different antigen logos attached. Unfortunately different types of viruses, bacteria and other microbes also wear different types of protein jackets with their respective antigen logos attached. The body is supposed to be able to tell the difference between friendly food jackets and harmful invader jackets, and is only supposed to deploy antibodies against harmful invaders. To make the system more efficient, it stores medium/long term information about the jackets it encounters so that it doesn’t have to conduct a full identity investigation every time. Unfortunately, sometimes it stores food jacket records in its ‘invader’ files and ends up wrongly deploying IgG antibodies against food proteins. The deployment of antibodies initiates an immune response that may lead to unpleasant symptoms.
In our digestive system, foods are broken down into smaller particles. Proteins are broken down into peptides and amino acids – only then should they be allowed to pass through the wall of the intestine and into the bloodstream. In a healthy digestive tract, the intestinal wall is regulated by tight junction proteins which act as security guards, allowing tiny molecules through, but barring bacteria, toxins and other antigenic compounds from entering the bloodstream. A number of factors can cause the tight protein junctions to ‘slacken’, including:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Gut dysbiosis
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Intestinal infections or inflammation
- Pancreatic insufficiency
This enables larger particles (including only partially digested food protein antigens) to wrongly penetrate the lining of the small intestine, where they are able to interact with the mucosal-associated immune system. This stimulates production of IgG antibodies to those specific food antigens, with continued exposure stimulating more and more. Over time, if you continue to eat that particular food and continue to experience increased intestinal permeability, the body will be unable to clear the immune complexes quickly enough. At this point, you may experience IgG mediated food intolerances. It is important to note that it is the slow clearance of the immune complexes and not actually the IgG antibodies themselves that result in the symptoms you may experience.
It is this increased intestinal permeability that is often referred to as ‘leaky gut’. I’m always telling people with interstitial cystitis that they should Google leaky gut and take steps to address it, because I believe this is often a factor in their bladder pain. If a Cambridge Nutritional Sciences FoodPrint report shows a lot of foods to which you have an elevated or borderline IgG antibody concentration, this is strongly indicative of increased intestinal permeability. It would highlight the need to work on gut integrity as part of the long term solution, during which time you would also strictly remove the most elevated foods from your diet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Google leaky gut and adopt a heal, seal and repopulate approach to fixing it! There are whole websites devoted to the topic and it’s beyond the scope of a quick paragraph here!
An allergy occurs when an IgE antibody is deployed by mast cells that line the body’s surfaces. The reaction is usually quick and can be very severe. Symptoms may include itching, swelling, stomach pains, vomiting, nasal congestion and, most famously, anaphylactic shock.
IgG intolerances occur when IgG antibodies bind with a protein jacket via its antigen logo and form an immune complex. This immune complex triggers further immune responses, which are usually inflammatory in nature. This occurs especially when the body is not able to clear them as quickly as they are formed, enabling them to embed in body tissues and provoke an inflammatory response. Symptoms may take up to three days to show themselves, meaning it can be difficult for someone to pinpoint problem foods. They can also be very vague and do not always affect the digestive tract. Sometimes there are digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea, IBS, or Crohn’s disease, but often there are not. Non-digestive symptoms of food intolerances are incredibly wide-ranging and may include:
- Migraines (most researched in terms of IgG mediated food intolerance)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
The half-life of IgG mediated sensitivities is 21 days. This means that if you eat something to which you have an IgG intolerance a few times a week, you still can spend quite a lot of your time feeling pretty naff without actually ever knowing why!
Non-IgG intolerances do not involve the immune system, but are usually the result of an enzyme deficiency rendering a person unable to digest a food group properly. The most common example would be lactose intolerance – this usually occurs because a person has insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase to digest milk products. Histamine intolerance also falls into this category, as do some others which I won’t discuss here.
To get to the point: IgG food intolerances provoke inflammatory reactions in the body and these can occur anywhere in the body or brain. So if you suffer from chronic bladder pain or other pelvic pain that just doesn’t seem to abate no matter what you try, you should definitely consider the possibility that you have IgG food intolerances.
For many years, the gold standard of food intolerance testing was considered to be the elimination diet. People would eat a super restricted diet for a while, based on foods that they were sure were fine, and then would introduce one trigger food at a time to see what happened. And by one food at a time, I mean a tiny portion and wait a few days. Then a slightly larger portion and wait a few days. Then a full serving and wait a few days. For every single food that might be an issue. Can you imagine?! Aside from the obvious issue of patient compliance, the other problem is in knowing what foods are safe in the first place. I, for example, am intolerant to pears, which are usually thought to be very benign!
Nowadays, IgG blood tests are an excellent shortcut to discover your food intolerances, but all companies do not seem to be created equal. In 2014 I invested over £200 into a food intolerance test with one of the leading UK companies, recommended by many nutritionists. It was a finger prick test and the results were posted to me a few weeks later, with foods shown on a red, amber, green scale. I was really disappointed when I got the results, as lots of foods that I knew I had bad reactions to came back fine. Wheat, dairy and rice were among them.
I spoke to the laboratory in question and they explained that maybe I had non-IgG intolerances to those foods. Prior to the call, I hadn’t been aware that there were different sorts of intolerances, so I felt a bit ripped off. I pretty much avoided wheat and rice anyway, but in those days I still indulged in an occasional hot chocolate with cream, so I decided to try taking digestive enzymes. I took extra lactase too whenever I had milk or cream. It made no difference. The lab was unhelpful, unsympathetic and in spite of its good reputation, my impression has always been marred as a result of my experience. The upshot of all this was that I didn’t pay much attention to any of the test results, because I didn’t trust that they were reliable.
Over the years, thanks to the dietary changes I made without any test results, my IBS and anxiety improved dramatically. However, no matter how strictly or for how long I followed leaky gut protocols and no matter how rigidly I stuck to my food rules, I continued to experience bloating. For the last three years I’ve also begun to develop stomach ulcers during times of stress – and I stress easily and often. I’ve also experienced some other symptoms that I don’t want to talk about too much, because they’re not sufficiently resolved and until they are, I’d rather keep them private. They’re nothing to do with IC or PGAD – for the purposes of this post I shall classify them as insomnia and palpitations.
I’ve always known that I probably had undetected food intolerances, but after my experience in 2014 and various attempts to track them down using elimination methods, I didn’t know what else to do. A few months ago, one night when my symptoms were keeping me awake, I started to seriously Google alternatives to the laboratory I’d used before. And so it was that I came across this review about a company called Cambridge Nutritional Sciences (CNS).
I was really keen to have a FoodPrint 200+ test, but I’ll be honest, the cost put me off at first. It retails at £291.60 and I was afraid it would disappoint as the other laboratory had done. However, I kept looking at the company website, reading the review, and eventually I rang CNS to see if they ever offer sales. They do not, but in the interests of transparency, I was able to use a new practitioner promotion to get the test I wanted at a vastly reduced price. I realise that most of you will not be able to do this and I am very grateful that I could. However, I will be taking the test again in a few months and will have to pay substantially more for it then. I will not hesitate to do so, as I have been extremely impressed with Cambridge Nutritional Sciences or ‘Cam Nutri’ as they are also known!
As the name suggests, the FoodPrint200+ test checks your IgG reactions to 200+ foods and drinks. It uses a scientifically proven technique called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to identify which foods trigger IgG antibody production. Cheaper versions that use the same technology but test fewer items are also available, as are vegetarian and vegan options. You do a finger prick blood test, post your sample to the lab, and within a few weeks you will have your results. I got mine within a fortnight, although a slightly longer turnaround time was advised.
Here are some of the things I really liked about Cam Nutri:
- An actual human being answers the phone promptly. The two I spoke to were extremely polite, friendly and helpful too!
- The kit was dispatched within 24 hours and, in theory at least, contained everything you needed to perform the test at home.
- The paperwork that accompanied the kit was really easy to fill in. I’ve used some testing companies where the paperwork has been incredibly lengthy and complicated!
- All return packaging was provided and was easy to operate. You’d think sticking a sample in an envelope and posting it would always be quite simple, but again, I’ve used companies where there have been so many pouches, foils, absorbent strips and packets that I’ve been terrified of getting it all wrong!
- You can use the same vial of blood to have more than one test done. I got a candida screen done at the same time as my FoodPrint200+.
- My FoodPrint200+ results were back with me within a fortnight. The candida screen took a little longer, because apparently the candida screen is performed on a different day than the FoodPrint tests, but it was still within the advertised turnaround time.
- I got amazing after care service from the in-house nutritional advisor. It far exceeded any after care that I’ve had from any other lab. Indeed, I’ve had one-to-one appointments with healthcare professionals who have imparted less knowledge than I received from CNS.
Here are some things I liked about the FoodPrint200+ test itself:
- It tests a really broad range of foods and drinks, including many ‘weird’ ones that those already on gluten free, dairy free diets may routinely eat.
- Each item is not only graded red, amber or green, but is also assigned a numerical score, allowing you to see which your most and least reactive foods are. This means you can eliminate the worst offenders as a matter of priority and maybe leave some of the lesser ones until you’ve got your head around the results. It also allows you to make an informed choice about whether you’ll still sometimes eat the lesser reds and the ambers, and affords you the chance to replace any borderline foods with lower scoring items from the green section.
- It tests for gluten separately to gluten grains like wheat and rye. This allows you to know whether it’s the grain itself or the gluten that is the issue.
- It tests for alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin and casein separately from milk, so you know how strictly you need to avoid dairy derived products. It also tests for buffalo milk, goat milk and sheep milk in addition to cow milk, which is really helpful.
- It tests for all the grains and seeds you might commonly consume if you eat a gluten free diet.
- It tests for all the milk substitutes you might commonly consume if you eat a dairy free diet.
- It tests egg yolk and egg white separately.
- It covers a really wide variety of meats, fish, fruits and vegetables. There are loads of items on the list that I’ve never even tried, so even if you’re very adventurous with your food choices, you should still get plenty out of the test.
- I trusted the results. This is the crucial one. EVERY food to which I know I react badly came back red. That meant I took the surprise results – the foods I never suspected – as seriously as the ones I knew about. Because I could see my known trigger foods in the red category, I immediately eliminated ALL the red foods from my diet. With considerable effort, I also managed to eliminate them from my supplement regime (cornflour and potato flour are common binding ingredients, while many supplements also contain sunflower, soya and flax derivatives) – the hours of research that went into this cannot be overstated.
Here are the foods to which I am intolerant. As you can see, they are presented in order of reactivity, which is really helpful. Some of these I already suspected, but others were complete surprises!
A selection of some of the foods I am okay with. As you can see, there are some very exotic things listed - there are items here I’ve never tried and never want to try!
It took me about three weeks to clean up my supplements to match my diet. I have a note in my diary that says I began my new regime on 12th October, so I’ve been on it for a little over two months now. The results have been noticeable and pleasing. I’m not going to mislead you and claim that they’ve single-handedly sorted out all my woes, as I’m still prone to be moody, hormonal and stressed. However, I’m getting far fewer palpitations – I’ve only been bothered by them in the night twice since I eliminated the red foods, whereas they previously affected at least 50% of my nights. I’m experiencing less bloating and I haven’t been troubled with a stomach ulcer since about five days into the new regime. I’m also using sleeping tablets a little less often (though still more often than I’d hoped I would be) and when I do use them, they now work more quickly. Prior to eliminating the red foods, I could literally take a prescription sleeping tablet on top of all manner of natural sedatives and sleep aids, and be awake ALL night. I’m pleased that medication now seems to work more effectively for me, as this has vastly improved the quality of my life.
Crucially, now that I’m getting more sleep, I have calmed down enough to commit to daily meditation in a way that I haven’t been able to before. I’ve always dabbled half-heartedly at it, but it’s been sporadic at best. For the first time ever, I’ve been able to string together enough days that it is becoming a regular practice. I have missed a couple of sessions, but usually I do between six and fifteen minutes a day, and sometimes I do it twice. I believe this has been crucial in helping me to make further mental health and sleep improvements. I’m hoping that over time I’ll really start to reap the rewards and I don’t believe I would have been able to achieve it without the results of the Cam Nutri FoodPrint200+ test.
Now that I’ve listed all the advantages to the test, I do think I should warn you of a couple of downsides:
- In theory the test can be carried out at home with the lancets CNS provides. In practice I am a wimp and I shone a torch into the lancet, decided it would hurt, and attempted to carry out the test with smaller lancets from my blood glucose test kit. I didn’t manage to get a single drop of blood into the test tube. Luckily, I was due to have some NHS blood tests (with numbing cream) so I asked the phlebotomist if she’d draw some extra for my sample. In my experience they’re usually happy to oblige, so it wasn’t a problem. Do be aware though that if you’re not very brave, don’t bleed easily, or just can’t manage to get the blood into the tube, you might need to go to a blood clinic to get the sample taken.
- I don’t think the test checks enough types of bean. I didn’t eat that many types, but given that I have had to eliminate haricot and kidney, it would have been nice to know about a few other types that might have made reasonable substitutions.
- The test doesn’t check for sucrose, maple syrup or honey. As a lot of free-from people use honey or maple syrup instead of normal sugar, I think these would be useful additions.
These are really the only downsides I have. Overall I was hugely impressed with the test and with Cam Nutri itself and I will most definitely be using them again. I’d love it if they would expand their product range to include a test for common ingredients used in supplements, as I was shocked at how many of my supplements needed to be replaced. I’d be keen to know if common supplement ingredients that aren’t actually food items are problematic for me.
I’m really grateful to Cambridge Nutritional Sciences for making these tests available and so easy to obtain. I’m so relieved to finally have a set of results that I can trust, that have helped me to take a step in the right direction where my health is concerned. I’m hoping that now I have eliminated so many problem foods, I will be able to maximise the benefits of a gut healing protocol in a way that I have not fully been able to do before. I’m also hoping that I’ll continue to make improvements in my general health, particularly my emotional health and sleep, so that I can enjoy a more fulfilling and robust life.
In case you were wondering, I may not have to avoid all of the foods in the red column forever. If people strictly eliminate foods to which they have IgG intolerances for around six months, the body often forgets what the trigger protein jackets looked like and IgG antibody levels drop to a background reading. Combined with a good gut healing protocol, when the problem foods are eventually reintroduced into the diet, they might no longer stimulate ‘memory’ IgG antibodies to raise them to an elevated level and reignite symptoms. During the elimination period, it is important to replace problem foods with suitable alternatives from your own ‘green’ section so that you continue to get a wide range of nutrients from your diet. It is the prospect of reversing some of my food intolerances that is spurring me on to stick to my regime so strictly at the moment – there are a couple of foods in that red section that I’m desperate to turn back to green!
IgG food intolerances can be devastating to health and difficult to track down, but they need not be a life sentence. With the aid of a good test like the FoodPrint range from Cambridge Nutritional Sciences, and a few months of superhuman willpower, most of them can be reversed. Alongside a gut healing protocol, this can make all the difference to a whole host of chronic health and debilitating health conditions.
I’m sorry that this has been such a long blog post, but I’m glad I’ve found a laboratory that I can really recommend to you. I do hope some of you will consider taking one of the FoodPrint tests and will be able to use it to really take control of your health.
Wishing you the best of health for 2020 and beyond,
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