Using the Human Genome to Uncover Food Sensitivities
While we all eat something that doesn’t sit quite right with us from time to time, having a serious issue with a particular food or food group has the potential to be fatal. For people who suffer from life-threatening food allergies, much is known about the types of tests necessary to diagnose and treat the issue. For people with food sensitivities or intolerances, however, genetic testing could be the only way for these individuals to finally stop treating every bite of food like a ticking time bomb.
Normal testing procedures
In a perfect world, someone with an undiagnosed food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity can follow a simple elimination diet at home and slowly reintroduce potentially problematic foods. Visiting an immunologist for skin testing or a blood draw can also be a valid option for many people.
The problem is that we don’t live in a perfect world.
Someone suffering from severe sensitivity to a particular food will test negative on the standard IgE-RAST test because they aren’t technically allergic to the offending food. Nevertheless, food sensitivity symptoms can run the gamut from mild gastric discomfort to severe skin or respiratory reactions. Even celiac disease, a food intolerance that makes the digestive system unable to process gluten and can damage organs as a result, can provide several years of false negatives before the sufferer finally receives the correct diagnosis.
Using the human genome for answers
This is where the human genome comes in. Since many autoimmune diseases—including celiac disease—are believed to have a genetic component, knowing whether you have the gene for these conditions can help you unravel the reason behind a host of mystery ailments that leave doctors and specialists shaking their heads in confusion. Granted, having the gene for an autoimmune condition doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop it in your lifetime; just that it’s something to watch for as you get older.
Unfortunately, use of the human genome isn’t quite mainstream in family medical practices yet, forcing people suffering with apparent food-related symptoms to look for alternative means of obtaining the information they need. In some cases, you may be able to find an integrative health practitioner to order genetic testing for you. Other times, you may need to work directly with the genetic testing lab in order to analyze the issues hidden within your DNA. Regardless of which route you select, you’ll still need a consumer application or the assistance of a doctor well versed in the human genome to interpret your results.
It also bears mention that knowing whether your family carries a hereditary food allergy could allow you to be better prepared the first time you or your child suffer from the allergy and go into anaphylactic shock.
Consumer testing considerations
Since genomic testing is still a costly route that many health insurance companies won’t cover except in the rarest of cases, it’s important to exhaust traditional testing and treatment protocols first. For instance, someone suffering from Grave’s disease (autoimmune hyperthyroid disorder) may find that they have several symptoms that have nothing to do with their thyroid hormone balance, like joint pain and swelling made worse by nightshades, eggs, chocolate or other inflammatory foods. Paying for genetic testing prior to a food elimination diet or traditional food allergy test could mean spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to find out they’re allergic to tomatoes (a common member of the nightshade family) that is part of the typical skin allergy test.
It’s also critical to really think through the decision to submit your genetic material for testing when food avoidance could also be a viable option for people with less severe symptoms. Not only is there the potential for a data breach at the facility you choose to work with, exposing your sensitive data to the world, but you may also learn more devastating information about your health than you bargained for. While learning about a genetic predisposition to autoimmune conditions that commonly come with food sensitivities or intolerances could finally help you get the relief you seek, it could also open the door for you to learn about other genetic disorders that run in your family, including Alzheimer’s disease.
If you’re working with a genetic testing facility that offers counseling, take advantage of it prior to submitting to the sequencing. Talking to someone who truly understands the good and the bad that can come from unraveling the human genome can help you make a better-informed decision about whether or not to proceed.