Most of the time, food is our friend. Nourishing, satisfying, and yummy. Except for food we’re allergic to. That’s when they turn into the enemy, causing evil reactions ranging from unsightly rashes, to possible death from anaphylactic shock. But what of instances when food turns into frenemies? That is, food that can cause us discomfort and other reactions without our knowing them?
Food intolerance is the body’s abnormal reaction to certain kinds of food. It can manifest itself in different ways, like headaches, bloating and diarrhea, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, skin problems, arthritis, weight control, and ADHD. Food intolerance manifests itself different among different people. Some don’t even manifest symptoms at all.
During a roundtable discussion about food intolerance, one of our speakers, Melissa Ongsue-Lee of Hi-Precision Diagnostics, talked about her own problems with food intolerance. Melissa used to suffer from nightly migraines for no apparent reason. She had herself tested for food intolerance and one of the flagged substances was milk. Sure, lactose intolerance is a common enough thing. A lot of people get upset stomachs from drinking cow’s milk, but what does it have to do with migraines? In Melissa’s case, it turns out that milk was the culprit for her nightly migraines, ironic since she used to drink milk on a nightly basis to help her sleep. After receiving her test results, she dropped her nightly milk habit and sure enough, her migraines stopped coming.
What Food Does to Our Bodies
Food intolerance happens when our gut has difficulty digesting something we eat. These foreign food particles are usually swept away by our macrophages, a white blood cell that’s responsible for clearing the body of cellular debris, microbes, and foreign substances. When there’s too much of these foreign particles that they can’t be cleared by the macrophages anymore, that’s when symptoms show up.
Food intolerance should not be confused with food allergies. While both are reactions to food, allergies are more extreme. Reactions to food allergies are usually immediate and severe. Sometimes, it’s not even necessary to ingest the food — extreme allergies can be triggered by simple contact.
In contrast, food intolerance reactions can take some time to manifest, happening hours or even days after the fact. And while the symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, intolerances are never life-threatening, unlike allergies. Because of this large window between eating and symptom manifestation, it’s not easy to pinpoint food intolerances.
Taking the Test
I have a very finicky stomach. The slightest whiff of crab has my tummy revolting. I wanted to confirm if my suspicions were true, as well as whether I had any other intolerances, so I gladly took the opportunity to be tested.
I took the CNS FoodPrint test, a test that screens the blood for the presence of specific allergen-fighting antibodies. This test is done against 222 individual food items, covering the most common intolerances plus a whole lot more. In the Philippines, this is administered by Hi-Precision Diagnostics, an independent medical laboratory. During my pregnancy, I had most of my tests done at Hi-Precision. I was very pleased with their service, so I opted to get my test done at their Alabang office as well.
My test was administered via finger prick (yay, says needle-phobic me) and was over in a minute or so. I spent more time worrying over the test than the actual administration. It was painless, but it’s really the paranoid anticipation that hurts.
Coping with Food Intolerance
The CNS FoodPrint results are clustered in three classes. The red group contains the food items that I am highly intolerant to, and should be avoided at all costs. The yellow group features borderline food items whose intake should be minimized. The green group are food items that are free and clear. I can gorge on them as much as I want.
Surprisingly, I had a low number of intolerances, and most of them were food I didn’t eat on a daily basis. Sure, I love wakame, pistachios, and mussels, but I don’t eat them often enough to regularly suffer from the symptoms they cause. But two major things that showed up on my test were cow’s milk, along with goat’s milk and sheep’s milk, and wheat. Those were the most heartbreaking things on my list since I love dairy and bread.
A surprising result was the absence of shrimp on my red list. I’ve long suspected myself to be intolerant of shrimp, so I was really surprised when it didn’t show up in my intolerance results. Crab, which always sucker punches me, showed up, but no shrimp! Then I realized, I have been avoiding shrimp for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if my sensitivity to them has decreased. In fact, I’ve started to allow myself to indulge in an ebi tempura or two with no painful results.
Dr. Julien Kirby from Cambridge Nutritional Sciences, the group responsible for the CNS FoodPrint test, recommends avoiding the red zone food for the next three months while monitoring your health’s improvement. Eventually, food sensitivity may drop but it’s important to still be careful about re-incorporating the avoided food from your diet because the body remembers.
Another thing Dr. Kirby pointed out was that it’s possible to have food intolerances and yet be asymptomatic to them. That means that while you have a lot of them in your body, they don’t inflict negative symptoms on you. Or at least, your symptoms are on the bearable side.
My test results came with a detailed handout explaining food intolerance, and the various ways one can cope with them through making smarter eating choices and food substitutions. The great thing about this is that it allows you to make dietary adjustments without feeling deprived. The handout itself is already eyeopening, but should you want to go for further consultation, appointments can be made with the LifeScience Center to help you understand your results better.
Personally, I think the keywords here are moderation and smart substitutions. I confess, I can’t totally avoid dairy and wheat products, but thankfully, I don’t get extremely unbearable symptoms from them. But knowing is half the battle, so I choose my battles wisely and abstain whenever I can. Just knowing makes me feel better already.
The CNS FoodPrint Food Intolerance test is available at all branches of Hi-Precision Diagnostics nationwide. It is also available via home service. For more information, call (02) 741-777 or (02) 863-9999. You may also visit www.hi-precision.com.ph.