Food allergies are a well known medical condition. It occurs when the body reacts very rapidly to the presence of certain foods that you eat if you have an immune sensitivity to these foods. The symptoms are quick to develop and usually intense. However, most of the allergies that we see in everyday life are due to substances being inhaled. Food allergies are significantly less common.
It appears that food sensitivity may extend beyond allergies and is not fully recognised by conventional medical fraternities. The proponents of a type of test known as ALCAT (antigen leucocyte antibody test) claim that food sensitivities may be responsible for a range of chronic conditions. But these sensitivities may not be obvious since the immune system may be reacting to foods in a very subtle manner. These food sensitivities or intolerances have been a source of controversy for many years as conventional allergy tests cannot verify the presence of a food sensitivity if it is not an allergy.
Allergies vs Other Immune Reactions to Food
Allergies are an immune-mediated reaction. This means that your immune system reacts aggressively and unnecessarily to a harmless substance. It can be a food, certain drugs, pollen, dust, animal hair, insect particles and even stings. The exact reason why some people develop allergies and others do not is unclear. Genetic factors seem to play a major role.
With an allergy, your body produces antibodies against specific substances (allergens). When these allergens enter your body, the antibody binds to it and this elicits a very strong immune reaction. It is mainly seen as inflammation since the immune cells become very active and release large amounts of inflammation-promoting substances like histamine. When it affects the nasal passages, you suffer with a runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion. In the airways, it manifests as asthma (difficulty breathing, wheezing and excessive mucus) and on the skin, it is seen as dermatitis (eczema) where there is itching, burning and a skin rash.
Allergies on its own are a complex subject with about four different allergic reactions occurring in slightly different ways. It appears that not every immune reaction to a harmless substance can fit into these different types of allergic reactions. Other altered immune reactions to harmless substances, like foods, may occur but is not as immediate or intense as a typical allergic reaction. Often these immune reactions may go unnoticed when very mild.
What is the ALCAT test?
The ALCAT test is a type of investigation which measures your body’s reaction to different substances. With an ALCAT test, blood samples are introduced into vials containing different foods, drugs and other substances that may be found in the environment. The contents of the vial are then electronically monitored with a computer analysis verifying if there was any significant immune reaction or not.
Blood contains hundreds of different components but with regard to the immune system, there is immune cells, antibodies, different chemicals and other proteins, all of which work together to protect the body. The thinking behind the ALCAT test is that by exposing whole blood to a substance to which an individual is sensitive to, some degree of immune activity will be noticed. It is believed that this abnormal immune activity within the body may be responsible for many chronic illnesses and degenerative diseases that we see today.
Meaning of the ALCAT Test
The results of the ALCAT test could mean that you are sensitive or intolerant to certain foods, drugs and other environmental substances although you do not have an overt allergy. Based on these results, the focus is to alter your diet and lifestyle to exclude exposure to these substances that may be a source of irritation to your immune system.
Your immune system has two ways to react to any threat. First is the generalised response which is known as the innate immunity or non-specific immunity. This part of the immune system will attack any threat and is the first line of defence. The second route is a more targeted approach against specific threats. It is known as the acquired immunity or specific immunity. This is the immune system that is primed to defend your body through vaccinations.
According to the proponents of ALCAT testing, it is the innate immunity that is responsible for reacting to certain harmless substances in food sensitivities. There may be no specific antibodies present in the body against the allergen as is the case with an allergy. Therefore conventional allergy tests and monitoring of the immunoglobulin E (IgE) may not reveal the food sensitivity. ALCAT testing depends on other reactions to verify a food sensitivity.