Food Sensitivity Testing- what to know before you buy

  • Karen Graham
  • September 6, 2019

I have been doing food sensitivity testing in my private practice for 11 years. I have used it for so long because it makes a difference. But, this testing is only one step of several steps that I take to help people feel better, as in; increasing energy, resolving gastrointestinal complaints, improve quality of sleep, enhance mood, reduce or stop medications (with their doctors approval), lose weight, reverse chronic conditions, etc. Food sensitivity testing (FST) is only one part of the healing process and if that is all you do, you won’t reach your full potential and you will not experience all the benefits listed above.

Food Sensitivities Change

In addition to understanding that there is more to healing than just cutting out food sensitivities, it’s also important to understand that your food sensitivities change over time. So re-testing is important. Some food sensitivities are from birth and those will never change. Those are the foods you will always need to avoid but others do resolve. It is very important to know which foods may change and which one will never come back into your diet as you don’t want to cut out foods unnecessarily. And you certainly do not want to eat the foods you have been sensitive to since birth since they can destroy your quality of life and cause disease.

No Standardization

Another key factor is, the lab that you use. There is no standardization when it comes to testing. Results will vary dramatically from lab to lab. I know this because I have sent my own blood to many of these labs only to find completely different results from each one of them. Some of the results looked like a food log of everything I had just eaten days before the test. None of them showed my food sensitivities that I have had since birth. None, except the lab that I use in my practice.

Direct-To-Consumer Testing

Recently, direct-to-consumer testing has flooded the online market. So of course, I wanted to see if these were something useful for my patients. I started looking at all the websites and found that they are not using what I, and the Institute For Functional Medicine, considers the gold standard in FST. Plus, they give you boiler plate plans to follow as if everyone can follow the same advice. I have never prescribe the same recommendations for more than two people. We are all individuals and we need advice that is specific to our conditions, symptoms, genetics, etc.

I found one direct-to-consumer test that uses hair analysis for FST. This is, in no way, an accurate test for food sensitivities. There are very few things you can test for using hair because there are so many limitations. Please don’t waste your money!

It makes me sad when I see so many people spending their money on poor quality testing when all their trying to do is find answers to why they don’t feel well.

Recently, one of my patients who is a doctor that I respect, asked me if I have seen a specific food sensitivity test ( I am not going to name the test). I said, yes, please don’t tell me you want to order it. He replied, no way, I saw someone’s results and they are a joke. People that understand testing know what a good quality test looks like and what is a joke.

The Best Approach

I highly recommend getting food sensitivity testing but you need to be smart about it. First, find a health care practitioner that orders the test. The quality of the test will be better and you will get the advice & guidance that is specific to your issues. A health care practitioner will:

  • Do a complete medical history on you.
  • Review your medications & supplements.
  • Advise you on which medications & supplements should be stopped prior to the blood draw. This is very important for correct food sensitivity results.
  • Guide you through the removal process.
  • Recommend the right time to re-test depending on your symptoms.
  • Take you through the additional steps to heal. Very important!
  • Recommend supplements that may be needed.
  • Recommend additional testing that may be required.

I am not telling you to see a health care practitioner because I am one. I am telling you because you will avoid; 

  • Wasting your money
  • Disappointment 
  • Wasting time in resolving your issues

Cost Of Food Sensitivity Testing

The cost of the testing that I do is equal to or less than the direct-to-consumer tests that I see online.

I personally do not make money on any tests that I order for my patients. I find that most health care practitioners do. They mark up the cost of the test. In my opinion, this is unethical but not everyone sees it that way. Some practitioners tell me they up-charge the tests for the time spent ordering and reviewing the results.

When I recommend a test, I want the patient to know its because I truly believe they need the test, not because it is an income stream. Here is a link to the testing I offer

Karen Graham, RDN- Functional Medicine Dietitian

Circadian Rhythms Play A Significant Role In Healing

I regularly discuss circadian rhythms with my patients. As a functional medicine dietitian, this topic is important as diet for our health and healing. If I only addressed diet and did not discuss circadian rhythms, patients will only get so far in the healing process. They will never reach their full potential with their health.

What is circadian rhythm?

It is the flow or rhythm of our body’s processes. These processes follow patterns in a 24 hour day, monthly patterns and seasonal cycles. When you honor these cycles, you can maintain a high state of health and slow down the aging process. When you go against them, you can expect poor quality of life, chronic disease and accelerated aging.

If something disrupts your circadian rhythm, you will experience:

  • Poor quality sleep
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Weight gain and/or have difficulty losing weight
  • Low energy
  • Poor healing
  • Disrupted gut microbiome
  • Disruption of hormone production
  • Faster aging
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Early death

They have proven this through research over the past few decades but many cultures have known about this for thousands of years and honor the cycles.

Sleep Effects our Circadian Rhythm

There are two tiny glands in the brain that play a major role in our circadian rhythms; the hypothalamus and the pineal gland. Light sensitive nerve cells in the retina of the eye, signal the pineal gland, telling the gland if it is day or night. Our body needs these signals to know when to synchronize different activities. When the eye senses sundown or diminishing light, it will signal the pineal gland to make melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that gets the body ready for sleep and starts a cascade of important hormonal events that take place during the night. Melatonin also exhibits a strong antioxidant effect, lowers your body temperature while you sleep and reduces your appetite during the night; all things that create a deep, restorative sleep. Our sleep habits, aka, sleep hygiene, can affect these glands negatively and disrupt our circadian rhythms.

light from screens disrupts circadian rhythms


Block Out Light at Night

One of the biggest disruptors of our circadian rhythms is light at night. It is especially critical to avoid all blue, red & green light at night. These lights inhibit melatonin but blue light has the most detrimental effects. Avoid blue light after the sun goes down as it disrupts the signal to make melatonin. Research shows that blue light is detected even through closed eyelids. Blue light comes from screens on phones, computers and TVs . So sitting in bed at night on your phone or tablet contributes to early aging, delayed healing, weight gain, poor energy, etc. 

Block out all sources of light in your bedroom including the light from an alarm clock or light from a streetlight that comes through your window. Cover your alarm clock with a t-shirt, use blackout shades on your windows and keep your phone and tablet out of the bedroom.

This is a big problem for patients that tell me they work on their computer at night after the kids go to bed. These people need to change this habit as the result will be poor health and poor quality of life. 

There are products on the market that claim to block blue light such as orange-tinted glasses and covers for tablet screens but there is no evidence that these work. The problem of light remains. As long as the retina is signaling to the glands that there is still light, the circadian rhythms will not function properly.

Conversely, when the sun comes up in the morning, these same nerve cells in the eye’s retina tell your glands it’s time to wake up. Your body will then be signaled to release cortisol, the hormone that wakes us up and makes us feel energized. The best thing you can do for cortisol production in the morning is to get sun exposure. So grab your coffee or tea and sit outside in the morning sun before you start your day and you will reap the benefits all day long. This is also the time you can be on your phone or tablet causing no hormonal disturbances. 

If your day begins before the sun comes up there are alarm clocks that mimic the sunrise. The light slowly gets brighter over time, usually over a 30-minute time frame until it fills your bedroom with bright yellow light. Some brands have clinical studies that show the benefits. One such brand is Philips Wake-Up Light  I have no financial or other connections to this brand, I just like the fact they have conducted clinical trials on their product.

Timing of Meals

Our circadian rhythms also dictate the timing of our meals. Our digestive system is the strongest between 10:00 am – 2:00pm so this is when we would want to have our largest meal of the day. Most countries around the world do this. Our digestive system then slows down in the evening and shuts down at 7:00pm. Therefore, dinner should be a light meal. This is also why it is very important to stop eating after 7:00pm.  At 7:00pm our bodies processes focus on getting ready for sleep. If you eat after 7:00pm the body has to stop the sleep cycle hormones and now focus on digestion. This is the exact reason we don’t sleep well if we eat late. 

When the sleep cycle hormones get disrupted by having to digest food, you also miss out on producing human growth hormone (HGH). We release HGH after the onset of deep sleep. In adults, this hormone helps maintain muscle & bone, breaks down fat, keeps our skin tight and help maintain adequate energy levels. HGH does many positive things for our body but the most significant thing it does for us is, preserves the length of our telomeres. Without getting too technical, long telomeres keep us young, short telomeres accelerate aging. When you don’t produce HGH, your telomeres will shorten accelerating your aging. 

The Results

If you make an effort to honor your circadian rhythms by eating before 7:00pm, avoiding screens in the evening, keeping your bedroom dark you will see a significant difference in the quality of your sleep and you will wake more refreshed. You will see a difference in your mood, a sustained increase in energy and a noticeable improvement in your appearance, especially your skin. Those are the benefits you and others will notice about you but internally, huge strides are being made in the health and healing of tissues. It won’t take you long to see the results. Even after the first few nights, you will see the difference and that will motivate you enough to keep you going.

Karen Graham, RDN – Functional Medicine Dietitian

The Role of a Functional Medicine Nutritionist

What is a Functional Medicine Dietitian

As a functional medicine dietitian, I translate scientific evidence about gut health and nutrition and put it into practice with my patients. This is a key task considering the plethora of misinformation out there regarding nutrition and gut health. As I comb through social media posts, the amount of nutrition misinformation that I see is staggering and a lot of this information is from people that have no formal education in health or nutrition. If you look deeper you will find that many of them only have an online certificate. A lot of this misinformation could be harmful to someone with a gut imbalance. The information may seem so simple that people think, ‘oh this couldn’t hurt, I’ll give it a try.’ But a simple cleanse, detox protocol or herbal remedy could put someone into a tailspin. I have seen this happen all too often.

Historically, trends in nutrition are a result of pseudoscience. Identifying good science takes a trained eye and just because a study is published in a peer-reviewed journal doesn’t make it good science. An understanding of how the study was designed and implemented is key. Another critical factor is knowing who funded the study. Industry funded studies are common in the U.S. and sometimes very difficult to identify. This is less of an issue in Europe as they have stricter rules regarding the funding of health and medicine related studies.

As a functional medicine dietician, I comb through research daily. I also stay informed on nutrition trends so when a patient asks me about them, which also happens daily, I can explain why this would or would not be good for their particular health issue. I would estimate that 80% of the time I am explaining why it would not be good for them.

There is no, ‘one diet for all’ or ’10 foods that will flatten your stomach’ or ‘one herb that will cure IBS’. Nutrition requires a very individualized approach and a methodical approach at that. I have never prescribed the exact same diet for more than two people. When nutrition is approached with this type of individuality, people heal.

In addition to diet, functional medicine nutritionists look at many aspects of a person’s lifestyle, including sleep patterns, digestion, sources of stress, medications/supplements, physical activity, energy level, source of joy, time spent in nature, environmental toxins and mood. Each one of these aspects has a profound effect on our health and have a cause and effect aspect on our bodies. Functional medicine dietitians are trained in the cause and effect of each of these and we are trained on how to address them with our patients.

Karen Graham, RDN

Functional Medicine Dietitian

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