Paying people who aren’t medically approved to tell you what you can never eat again, that’s a weird one to my mind. “Please, control my life!” How on earth – in just one appointment with someone who isn’t a medical professional licensed to give advice on, or test for, food allergies – can you end up with a huge list of alleged food allergies? And then take that list and use it to determine what you eat and drink for the next 20, 30, 40 years?
My gastroenterologist says the only way to determine food allergies is through elimination diets which most people aren’t prepared to undergo unless their problems with diet have become extreme. If it is a blood test people use at the back of shops to allegedly prove food allergies, my gastroenterologist told me they are a con. Neither can saliva or urine or faecal testing tell you you’re allergic to this or that food group. He reckons these food allergy tests are pseudoscience at best, which is to say they are unscientific. We can determine for ourselves when we repeatedly throw up after eating, say, as with me, duck eggs, that we have an intolerance but we don’t know if it’s an actual allergy nor what we are reacting to, specifically. A protein? Some other molecule?
I found out my food triggers by cutting things out to see if that helped, like I had bloating and that went away when I tried gluten-free. I was, unbeknownst to me at the time, following something very close to FODMAP when desperately wanting diverticulosis pain to stop. My gastroenterologist said the foods I had chosen to try cutting out were the most common irritants, not necessarily allergens (actual full-blown allergies are still comparatively rare and hard to prove).
My changes – no dairy, no gluten, no legumes but exclusively vegan – certainly proved enormously beneficial, fairly immediate, and met with the gastroenterologist’s approval as a means of calming both fibromyalgia flares and diverticular disease. The gluten-free vegan diet works for me but it can’t be said to be good for everyone because it might not work for you. We are each uniquely made. Like, I can eat corn happily but for many with diverticulosis it’s a horror food.
Spending a fair whack of money on testing that the medical establishment doesn’t give any credence to, at all, then using the results of said ‘test’ to deny yourself a vast swathe of food groups for the rest of your life… It doesn’t seem to make any sense, or be in any way a good idea, to me. But it is something that harms no one. If it’s just you facing no more chocolate or eggs, that has no impact on anyone else. And you won’t die or become deficient in anything by not eating this or that food item.
To me, though, it is as if someone on the street came up to me and asked me for a lot of money. I give it to them and they sniff me, then they tell me I’m allergic to cats. I wouldn’t rehome my cats on that basis. If I’d undergone thorough, legitimate, truly scientific testing, then yes. Otherwise, no way. I wouldn’t blame anyone for telling a stranger who’s trying to persuade them what they can and can’t eat, “You’re not coming between me and my Dairy Milk!”
Dietary changes are nearly always going to be beneficial because people eat shit. There is no doubting that, for a vast number of ailments, laying off booze, pizza, fags and Aunt Ethel’s greasy coagulated quiches is going to help them feel better because much of what people eat today is overprocessed, ultraprocessed and full of additives – like the aforementioned chocolate. IBS and diverticulosis are both helped by cutting out gluten, sugar, fat, dairy… Then, sugar, fat and dairy are bad for everyone. We are all lactose intolerant, becoming more so the older we get – and yet milk is consumed in so many ways at all ages. Food allergy testers tell some folks they’re not allergic to dairy – but everyone is allergic to dairy! It just doesn’t cause most people any obvious upsets, so they keep consuming it. It is, however, being researched as a possible contributor to increased cancer risk along with red and processed meats. We are all allergic to alcohol, too.
A less costly and altogether better approach than trying a dubious test doctors don’t recognise as valid, is to try some things that are free and considered reliable by genuine medical professionals: the FODMAP diet and elimination diet, in tandem with visits to a gastroenterologist. GPs can refer, if they determine that you suffer from symptoms most likely attributable to food allergies or sensitivities.
At the end of the day I don’t care what others spend their money on or what they choose to eat. Not my business. You want to jump off that cliff? Up to you. The thing is, though, people who are often on low incomes with chronic illnesses can be swayed to part with money they can’t really afford to spend, for treatments and tests that aren’t recognised – by the people who can really help – as having any value at all.
I’m not binary about this (as in, doctors good / alternative practitioners bad). I’ve tried many unorthodox treatments but they have, to some degree, support in the NHS or at least no hostility to them – mindfulness, some elements of herbalism, acupuncture – and, for me, all three of those have helped at times. I don’t think doctors are any more consistently reliable than any of us. I do believe ‘alternative practitioner’ is generally a good label but can too often be more honestly substituted with ‘charlatan’ and ‘quack’.
It is individual choice. People like to gamble and they even like to waste money but it is vital that advocacy and opposition get equal prominence in our health communities online, lest we just see quackery lauded and a reality distortion bubble allowed to grow unchallenged. Because, to be sure, when you’ve got something to sell, you will seek out the groups most vulnerable to your sales pitch. In itself, that’s just capitalism – but when I say vulnerable, I’m not just referring to vulnerable to persuasion and ideas; I’m meaning people who are definitively vulnerable, physically and/or mentally. And so we see alternative practitioners (cough) flock like migrating birds to chronic illness forums and pages. “Hope this is okay to post, it saved my life!” And so it begins… Again and again and again. Forever. Inexhaustible and relentless. After all, for every 99 people who dismiss, there’s going to be one who takes the bait. And that’s a salary there.
It feels strange being positioned this way because I am not an orthodox person. It’s not about orthodoxy, though, nor is it about being non-conformist. It’s about health and the fact that there will always be people looking to make money from the sick, selling them illusions, delusions and snake oil.
Andrew’s latest book, myfibromyalgia: one man’s experience of living with chronic illness, is out now in all Amazon store territories the world over. The ebook is £5.99 and the paperback £8.99. UK Amazon link.