Consumers warned they cannot rely on food intolerance test kits

Authority says there is no single test to diagnose food intolerance


Consumers have been warned against buying products that wrongly claim to be able to test for food intolerances and retail pharmacies have been told to stop offering food intolerance testing services.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said people should not act on the results of such tests after a review of widely available kits showed there “is no single test to diagnose food intolerance”.

The authority warned people “not to rely on the results of these test kits alone to detect a condition or to remove certain food groups from their diet”.

It said anyone suffering from gastrointestinal issues or of the view that they could be intolerant of a certain type of food should consult a doctor or dietician.

Attempting to self-diagnose a suspected food intolerance using a test kit alone could potentially result in a delay in identifying and treating other medical conditions, the HPRA said.

According to its chief executive Dr Lorraine Nolan there is no scientifically valid test to detect food intolerance and the only valid and safe way to diagnose food intolerance is to eliminate foods following clinical advice and then reintroduce a suspected food on a phased basis to see if symptoms return.

“Food intolerance is a term that has emerged to describe various unpleasant conditions such as indigestion and bloating that can occur after eating certain foods. People should not rely on the results of these test kits on their own regardless of how they are labelled and promoted,” Dr Nolan said

“Any examination relating to a person’s ability to digest or ‘tolerate’ foods should be made in careful consultation with a doctor or dietician. It should not be based on these tests alone as to do so could lead to a misdiagnosis or the removal of important nutrients in the diet.

The HPRA’s review of medical devices commonly referred to as food intolerance tests included the most commonly used test kits in Ireland such as immunoglobulin G tests, which are based on a blood sample.

It found that such tests do not diagnose intolerance to food types but will detect previous exposure to a food. While this information may be used to help determine the types of food which a particular person has eaten in the recent past, it does not indicate intolerance.

The various tests examined as part of the HPRA’s review are available through certain nutritional, food intolerance and health centres and via certain pharmacies. It also reviewed test kits that people can use in their own home such as those available via the internet and those offering a postal based service.

The HPRA emphasised that there was a clear distinction between food intolerance and food allergies as the latter can be potentially life-threatening. It stressed food intolerance tests have no role in the diagnosis of a food allergy.

A negative food intolerance test result does not mean that someone is not allergic to that food, it also warned. Confusing a negative food intolerance test result with a food allergy can pose serious risks if a person then goes on to consume that food type and to have a subsequent reaction.

In response to the HPRA announcement, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, which regulates the pharmacy sector, has informed pharmacists they should not offer food intolerance testing services.

“It is clear from the HPRA notice and from the Food Safety Authority’s (FSAI) advice on food allergy and food intolerance that the only clinically valid method for the diagnosis and treatment of food intolerance is an elimination diet, which should be carried out under the supervision of a registered dietician or medical professional,” said PSI Registrar Niall Byrne.

“As regulated healthcare professionals, pharmacists are a trusted source of advice for the public on medicines and health matters in the community and, following today’s publication of the HPRA notice, pharmacists should no longer offer food intolerance testing services to diagnose food intolerance.”