Professor Patrick Holford of Teesside University and Head of Science and Education at Biocare frequently upbraids professionals and researchers for what he perceives as their lack of up-to-date research.
Holford’s 100%health newsletter for November 2007 is full of the usual inexactitudes and creative interpretations of quite straightforward research. He once again conflates allergies and intolerance and discusses IgG as if it is relevant to any such discussion.
Let’s start with food allergies, since they are the most common cause of digestive problems. To test this approach, researchers at the University of York devised an ingenious study. They tested 150 IBS sufferers for IgG food allergies, and gave the patients’ doctors either the real results or fake results and a supposedly ‘allergy-free’ diet to follow for the next three months. Neither the patients nor their doctors knew if they were on a fake diet or one that was truly allergy free. At the end of the three-month trial, there was a significant improvement only in those people on a true allergy-free diet. What’s more, those who stuck most strictly to the ‘real’ diets had the best results. This study confirms positive results seen in previous research.
Lisa is a case in point. She suffered from abdominal pain after certain meals, as well as constipation and bloating…After taking an IgG food allergy test, she found that she was allergic to yeast, almonds and cashews, and mildly allergic to milk.
Within days of avoiding these foods, her symptoms started to vanish. She says, “I’ve gotten my waist back. I’m in trousers I haven’t worn for years. I’m much less bloated, have had very few stomach cramps, and my constipation is completely gone. I’ve definitely lost weight…One day I inadvertently ate some muesli with almonds, one of my allergy foods. I felt itchy after that. I also ate yogurt one day and had stomach pain afterwards. But overall, I feel so much better.”
If Lisa’s symptoms sound familiar to you, the chances are high that you have a hidden food allergy. To investigate this, I recommend getting an IgG food allergy test – this measure an immune response that conventional NHS allergy tests do not usually look for. One of the most accurate and easiest I’ve found is the home test kit from Yorktest…
The next possibility to explore is that you are eating something you are intolerant to, but not allergic to. The most comon food intolerance is to the lactose (the sugar in milk). Many people don’t make the digestive enzyme lactase as adults, so they can’t digest the lactose in milk and other dairy products.
Holford continues to put his own special take on what is an allergy or intolerance: one that does not match up with the descriptions used by qualified or practising clinical allergists or immunologists. Dr Glenis Scadding , Consultant Allergist at the Royal Nose, Ear and Throat Hospital characterised IgG tests for food intolerance as “a waste of money”:
What I do dispute is that it is worth making any attempt to identify IgG antibodies. We all make IgG antibodies to food….I see no way in which this can be used to guide diet.
I don’t think there’s any point in spending money on IgG antibody tests. You’re better off going to see a dietitian and using an exclusion diet followed by reintroduction. The IgG antibody tests are liable to leave patients on diets that are inadequate and patients often like to think they’re improving. They carry on in the teeth of very little improvement and may end up malnourished.
I think [self-testing kits] should be banned.
Dr Scadding also has some strong opinions about the over-enthusiastic interpretation of the Gut paper to which Holford alludes in his newsletter and makes short shrift of its general applicability and the strength of its findings. In essence, looking at the Numbers Needed to Treat, the diet guided by IgG test results was less effective at ameliorating symptoms than the standard elimination diet.
The reader is now in the awkward position where Holford is referring to IgG tests as indicative of allergies. Holford is now reduced to recommending digestive enzyme supplements and probiotics for what he calls allergies. He refers to a common lactose intolerance but is somehow unable to mention that the agreed test for this is the hydrogen breath test.
Despite Holford’s “more scientifically rigorous than thou” stance he is surprisingly resistant to expert opinions that say IgG testing for food intolerance is irrelevant at best. The House of Lords conducted an extensive investigation in allergy and allergic diseases in the UK. In a comprehensive report HL 166-I (pdf from which pg numbers are given), they make a number of good recommendations and provide some useful summaries. Pages 86-88 cover the issue of direct-to-consumer tests such as the YorkTest foodSCAN IgG test for food intolerance summed up their advice as follows (pg 87):
We are concerned…that the IgG food antibody test is being used to diagnose food intolerance in the absence of stringent scientific evidence…We urge general practitioners, pharmacists and charities not to endorse the use of these products until conclusive proof of their efficacy has been established.
Even the Advertising Standards Authority has criticised the claims that YorkTest makes for its so-called food intolerance tests that measure IgG levels. But, still, Holfords persists in advocating for YorkTest and insisting that the IgG test is of proven significance for food intolerance.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised. After all, back in July the Washington Post revealed that Personal Health Beliefs Are Mostly Hit and Myth.
Men proved more likely to hold scientifically unsubstantiated beliefs than women…
One reason health myths persist, Jones said, is that the science is incremental and constantly changing. Study findings often conflict with one another before evidence becomes conclusive. And when newer studies overturn widely held beliefs, he said, the results can get lost in the barrage of health information available on TV, in newspapers and, above all, online.
And, unfortunately, there have been some instances (statins) where Holford seems to have relied upon media reports rather than the primary research papers. The odour of sanctimony is pretty strong as Holford Watch expresses the pious hope that the University of Teesside expects better standards of scholarship from its students than it obviously does from the people on whom it confers posts such as a Visting Professorship.
Patrick Holford and His “Deeply Impressive” Scientific Proof
Patrick Holford, IgG Food Intolerance Self-Testing and the House of Lords
Patrick Holford Endorses Allergy/Intolerance Blood Test: House of Lords Wants Responsible Professionals to Cease Endorsement of Such Techniques
IgG and Food Intolerance Tests