On Our Minds: At-Home Allergy Testing
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
As we see more and more people experiencing unresolved signs and symptoms, it becomes easy to understand the allure of at-home testing, and the promise that testing will not only reveal a root cause of suffering, but provide a quick-fix solution. The conversation surrounding the use of at-home allergy testing for food sensitivities continues to be popular in the virtual halls of Full Body Systems as coaches and clinicians also pursue why this or that physiological manifestation may be occurring. I have to admit that I too was wondering when and if Andrea might consider using these tests in clinical care.
The Function of At-Home Allergy Tests
As Andrea explained to me, there are myriad at-home testing options available on the market. Their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years as people continue to seek resolution when traditional protocols continue to leave GAPs in their healthcare. The tests function differently depending on the company’s testing methodology. They are typically performed either by swabbing the inside of your mouth, as is the case with DNA related tests, or by submitting a blood sample to attempt an analysis of IgG antibodies. In the at-home blood tests, the blood is typically captured by a simple finger pin-prick with a provided device, as opposed to requiring a blood serum draw from a phlebotomist (the person who draws your blood for serum lab tests ordered by your doctor).
In addition to the differences in testing methods, depending on which company is chosen, Andrea reminded me that it’s also important to keep in mind that food allergies and food sensitivities function differently in the body. The former is based on an IgE antibody response while the latter is largely an IgG antibody response. While antibodies are produced by a similar class of cells in the immune system, they are distinct in both their production and activation.
During our meeting, Andrea clarified that she isn’t against food sensitivity testing when used correctly and in a Functional clinical space. This would require a keen understanding of what the results will mean for the individual and in the context of many other factors in their life, body, and health history. That utilization is also reliant on a better understanding of the function and activity of the type of antibody being tested.
Functional Nutrition Approach to At-home Allergy Testing
Clearly, we need to understand context when we’re looking at these at-home food sensitivity tests, but that context is not often a part of the testing process or the delivery of the results. In Full Body Systems you’ll hear Andrea remind us of context repeatedly because this is where the paradigm shift happens in healthcare. Honestly, this is one of the things I love about Functional Nutrition — it’s not just about the food being “good” or “bad”, and it’s not just about what a test result says on paper. Instead it’s always about the individual, how that food behaves in their body and what the test results mean in tandem with other frames of reference (what that person is experiencing, what else is happening in their system, and, of course, what those results actually mean!)
Outside of a clinical setting, the at-home sensitivity tests may provide us with clues (if we know how to read them). But they do not give us therapeutic answers. On top of that, these tests (along with any lab test) only reveal a snapshot of the particular time that the blood was drawn. (See Andrea’s blog post on “trends”.)
Unfortunately, and without clinical insight into how the body works, what the testing actually means, and what to do with the results, these at-home tests lure us into the trap of solving X for Y, and may leave us confused, frustrated, or self-prescribing promised solutions (like an overly restrictive diet) that ultimately don’t serve our end goal. This is where Andrea was most cautious about the use of these tests, and, if I could read her tone, concerned.
The Quick-Fix Trap
Food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances will likely be something you’ll encounter as a coach or clinician. I’ve recently worked with a young teen that has fallen into the quick-fix trap and GAPs in our healthcare system. Not only has it resulted in highly restricted eating and undesired weight loss, but it has placed her in a malnourished condition that I know can lead to more health challenges—especially related to her mental health concerns.
As Functional Nutrition Counselors there is nothing more disconcerting. And it makes sense to want to rush to a “fix” or solution, to label and resolve. Yet I’ve learned that when I rush ahead, I miss the opportunity to not only listen and learn, and work in partnership with my clients, but also to help empower them to tune into their own bodies and achieve their desired health outcomes.
I love this quote from Andrea as she explains so clearly the need to explore the terrain and bioindividuality of the client or patient:
“What we need to understand when you’re gathering blood at home for IgG tests is what our IgG antibodies are responding to. But if we don’t understand what the rest of our immune system is doing, they could be giving us confusing information – and that can be scary. It bypasses the self-reliance we develop when we’re able to tune in and get our own kind of biofeedback.”
There Isn’t a One-Size-Fits-All Remedy
When we understand that at-home allergy testing is not necessarily providing a functional approach when used without clinical oversight and management, it leads me to ask: what does a Functional Nutrition approach to exploring food sensitivities look like? A Functional Nutrition approach is an empowering journey to health that fills the GAPs by looking at the context that leads to those signs and symptoms that we or our clients are suffering.
Looking through a Functional lens allows us to explore the Three Roots (genes, digestion, and inflammation). Those roots (and the soil in which they live) are the upstream imbalances that lead to those downstream issues that manifest as those irritating signs and symptoms. And this is where the Functional Nutrition Alliance mantra comes into focus; everything is connected, we are all unique, and all things matter. And in this paradigm, food sensitivities are a branch, not a root.
Functional Nutrition Counselors want to get the body to its most functional state, which means it’s not just about potential food instigators and subsequent food removal. Instead it means we ask the necessary questions to uncover why the body is reacting as it is. Unfortunately, no one test will give us the answer we need without that necessary context. Best case scenario, they provide us with some additional clues.
What you can do now
The tools in Full Body Systems set you up for success with every client or patient, and they’re there to help remind and guide you to practice Functionally. To get to the root causes of suffering, we must first shift away from the traps of practicing with old protocols that don’t work and embrace each client’s bioindividuality and unique journey. Let’s continue to change the way we do healthcare together!
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