These days, most people you know will, at some point, have claimed to be 'allergic' to some food stuff or other. Whether it's your wheat-dodging best friend or your milk-skipping mum, allergies, and the methods used to diagnose them, are big money right now. But how accurate are some of the tests people are relying on to tell them what they are and aren't allergic to? Registered Dietitian Kirsten Crothers fills us in.
In recent years, as you've probably noticed, there has been a huge rise in people claiming to have food allergies or intolerances. In fact, 30% of the UK’s population is now claiming that they react adversely to one or more foods. With long NHS waiting lists for allergy diagnoses and treatments, many people are instead opting to pay privately for their allergy testing. In fact, allergy testing is so popular that the industry is going to be worth an estimated $761 million by 2022.
A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system reacts to a specific food. This reaction, as you're probably aware, can can cause things like skin rashes, stomach cramps and vomiting, right through to the life-threatening anaphylaxis. What people might not be aware of, however, is that as few as 1-2 % of people have a true food allergy. And that many of these so-called 'allergy tests' being advertised are highly inaccurate.
So why is this important? Well, the other 28-29% of people who believe that they have food-related symptoms could actually be suffering from any number of other digestive problems. Things such as Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, a food intolerance or coeliac disease can cause similar symptoms to a food allergy or intolerance. The charity Coeliac UK estimates that there are currently around 500,000 people undiagnosed in the UK. If not managed correctly, these conditions can lead to nutritional deficiencies, permanent bone thinning or even death. Finding out whether you've got an allergy or something else is going on, then, is kind of important.
But as mentioned, and as The British Dietetic Association outlines in their official Food Allergy and Intolerance fact sheet, there are numerous ‘alternative’ allergy tests available which have little-to-no scientific basis. Meaning that while you will get a result, it has a good chance of not being as accurate as you might like...