If Only It Were Easy
Let’s face it: the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol is hard to do. If we could just take a test to identify our food intolerances, it would be so much easier! So, why don’t we? Unfortunately, food intolerance testing is unreliable, giving both false positive and false negative results. An elimination diet (like the AIP) is the only accurate way to test for food intolerance. It’s called the Gold Standard. This is actually one area where conventional doctors and Paleo practitioners agree.
Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances
Food allergies are severe reactions that can even be life-threatening, sending someone to the hospital because they can’t breathe. You may know a child who has this reaction to peanuts. It’s frightening. There are two tests performed by allergists to diagnose food allergies: IgE blood test, and a skin test, both of which have proven scientific validity. Even so, allergists usually perform a food challenge in the office to confirm the diagnosis. Since allergic responses are fast and furious, the doctor is there to monitor the reaction.
Food intolerances are a different matter. They are milder, but have a cumulative effect of provoking the immune system and increasing inflammation in the body. If you have autoimmune disease, food intolerances exacerbate your symptoms, making them much worse. While there are tests sold to identify food intolerances, they haven’t held up under scientific scrutiny. And because food intolerance reactions are delayed, taking up to 72 hours to appear, a food challenge in a doctor’s office isn’t possible. Instead, an elimination diet (like the AIP) is the recommended route to diagnosis.
A Scientific Look at the Tests
ELISA and ALCAT are both blood tests that claim to identify food intolerances. They look at how your blood responds when exposed to a specific food. ELISA measures IgG antibody reactions. ALCAT measures white blood cell reactions. These sound like plausible theories, right? Antibodies and white blood cells are part of your immune system. If your immune system reacts to a food, that would obviously signify intolerance. Not so fast! The immune system is complex; if it wasn’t we’d have a cure for autoimmunity by now. It turns out that some studies show that an IgG response to a food actually indicates tolerance. And white blood cells constantly change shape and activity anyway, so if they do that in the presence of a food, that doesn’t mean the food was the trigger. Not surprisingly, both tests are notorious for inconsistent results. According to Chris Kresser, some doctors have sent in two blood samples for testing from the same person at the same time on the same day, and received different intolerance reports. That’s why allergists around the world recommend against these tests and recommend an elimination diet like the AIP instead. Here’s a thorough report summarizing the research which has shown these tests are inaccurate.
Elimination-Provocation: The Gold Standard for Testing Food Intolerance
If an elimination diet is the only way to accurately test food intolerance, how does it work? There are two phases: the elimination period (strict AIP) and the reintroduction period (also called provocation.) You follow a strict AIP diet for a minimum of 30 days (some people wait 3-12 months) until you see clear improvement in your autoimmune symptoms. This shows that healing has begun, and you can reintroduce foods one at a time, to test your body for tolerance. This process requires patience, but it’s 100% accurate and individualized to you. It’s where you learn to communicate with your body, and once you have that skill, you have it for life. It may not be easy, but it’s a powerful healing tool.
The Connection Between Leaky Gut and Food Intolerance
Food intolerances are often caused by intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut). Our intestinal lining is vital to our health. It’s designed to let needed nutrients into our bloodsteam, while keeping out everything that’s harmful to our health. Here’s the problem: leaky gut and autoimmune disease go hand in hand. You rarely find one without the other. With leaky gut, our intestinal lining becomes too permeable, letting things into our bloodstream that don’t belong there. Amino acids are a nutrient meant to be allowed through. They are the building blocks of proteins in our food, and the building blocks of cells in our bodies. They’re tiny and wonderful, and we need them. With leaky gut, our bodies let proteins through before they’ve been completely broken down into amino acids. We’re not talking big chunks of food – just molecules bigger than they should be, in a form our body can’t recognize as food. So, the body mounts a defense by activating the immune system and ramping up inflammation. Not a good situation for someone with autoimmune disease.
The Benefits of Doing the Hard Thing
The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol doesn’t just identify food intolerances. It reverses autoimmunity, allowing us to reclaim our health and our life. A lab test can’t do that. The AIP has 3 pillars of healing: the foods we remove from our diet which are inflammation triggers, the foods we add to our diet that nourish and heal, and the lifestyle changes we make that balance our hormones and reduce inflammation bodywide. It’s a lot of effort, but the rewards are priceless.
One such reward is that the AIP is designed to heal and seal our gut lining. While food allergies are permanent, food intolerances can be temporary. This is why, over time, many people are able to successfully reintroduce more and more foods.
“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy.
I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”
~ Art Williams