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Test claiming to solve Irish health problems through saliva swab under scrutiny

TheJournal.ie investigates claims made by Irish-registered DNA home-kit company as consumer watchdog launches probe.

A ‘DNA FOOD intolerance test’ being sold to Irish consumers is currently being investigated by the Health Product Regulatory Authority, TheJournal.ie has learned.

AdisonLab Genetics, which is owned by a Dublin-registered company Neotecmedical Ltd, presents itself as “Europe’s most advanced DNA analysis platform”. Its service offers to analyse your genetic compatibility with 600 foods using a simple saliva swab – a service which experts in the fields of genetics and toxicology say has no basis in science.

A video on the AdisonLab website claims its DNA test “has the answer” to that extra weight you’ve been carrying. This method is also “extremely efficient”, it says, for addressing different pathologies, such as digestive disorders, dermatology problems and even – it claims – psychological disorders.

Source: Adisonlabgenetics/YouTube

Experts’ concerns

Though the company, which was registered here at a Carpenterstown, Dublin address in 2013, presents a authoritative front, scientists in Ireland told TheJournal.ie that this method of testing for food intolerances does not work. In fact, they claim, can give false confidence to consumers and prevent people from seeking appropriate medical help for a disorder or encourage them to remove foods from their diets that they actually need.

Toxicologist with Safefood, James McIntosh, told TheJournal.ie that there is no widely acknowledged scientific evidence to suggest that food intolerances can be detected in DNA from a person’s saliva.

I’m sure the scientific community would have come across this at some stage, if you can swab the inside of your cheek and, hey presto, we can tell you exactly what you should eat, I’m sure we’d have heard of this breakthrough.

McIntosh said that there is no regular system for people to get properly tested and if someone is experiencing “a life of misery” and a company claims they can tell them exactly what it is, “of course people will go to these places”.

With a lot of tests we’ve come across, they are based on an antibody called IgG. Some of these people swear by IgG but if you talk to the medical scienfitic community, there is no evidence to suggest that a test based on IgG will tell you what foods you are intolerant to. In fact, scientific evidence suggests that detecting IgG with certain foods in the blood can be a sign that you are, in fact, tolerant to that food.

As of now, the “only and best way” of finding out if you have an intolerance is an exclusion or avoidance diet. This involves removing a food from your diet, recording your symptoms (or lack thereof) and then eating it again to see if symptoms return. It can be a slow process but it is the only one proven to work, McIntosh explained.

  • What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

Source: UK Food Standards Agency

There are concerns that people taking these tests could be convinced they have a food intolerance when they actually have more serious gastrointestinal problems that should be checked out by a doctor.

“Another danger is that people will start self-diagnosing with these tests and take a range of food out of their diet. What are they replacing it with? It may be that they could cope with small amounts of something and they don’t have to totally exclude it,” McIntosh said.

His advice? Go to your GP and a dietician if you are concerned that your diet may be affecting your health.

The test

Regina Regan, a research scientist specialising in medical genetics for the last 23 years, agrees that the method of removing and reintroducing foods is the only one recognised by the scientific community as effective in identifying intolerances.

She has been concerned for months by the AdisonLab test claims and wants Irish consumers to be more vigilant about tests like these.

“Somebody has to protect the public, there isn’t any regulator for this,” she said.

“Basically, anybody can set up a lab to do anything.”

What they’re offering is DNA intolerance testing that you can’t do by genetics. It’s never been proven that you can do it that way – there’s no scientific evidence to support it.

She initially came across AdisonLab on a number of online coupon sites offering a test for less than €100, though the company is charging €700 for the same test on its own website.

What happened when we took the test?

TheJournal.ie requested one of these test packs through a voucher deals website and sent AdisonLab a saliva swab.

IMG_4452 The contents of the Adison Lab Genetics testing kit which included a swab, instructions and a detailed form. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

form Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

Two months on, we received the results, which warned that the staff member – who filled out the forms truthfully and gave a DNA sample – had intolerances to a number of foods including cherries, hazelnuts, feta cheese, squid, ketchup, pig heart and reindeer meat.

She insists that she has never suffered an adverse reaction or noticeable physiological changes after consuming any of the above (although she admits that she has never tried reindeer nor pig heart).

The test results advised her to reduce her intake of those foods which they have an “intolerance” to, depending on the rating it received in the test.

For those marked in red, as above, with a rating of more than 28, AdisonLab recommends they only consume this particular food once a month.

We contacted AdisonLab to discuss the methods the company uses to test for food intolerances and they agreed to a Skype interview with the Director of Pathology Anatomy Unit and the Human Nutrition Director – whose names AdisonLab would not disclose – as well as the marketing manager who was there to translate.

Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

They told us that once they have the labs have the saliva sample from the consumer, they “activate the DNA with a chemical activator”.

They explained:

Source: Shutterstock

The team acknowledged that the scientific community does not presently recognise this method. However, they said that the reason for the lack of approval is that the recognition of food intolerance itself is “recent and has oftentimes been referred to as a food allergy.

An examination of the company’s most recently filed accounts shows Neotecmedical Ltd made more than €431,000 profit last year.

Investigation has been launched

Though the company stands behind its method, TheJournal.ie has learned that the AdisonLab test is among several now being examined by Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The authority is not responsible for approving medical devices such as these kinds of tests, rather its role is to monitor products once they enter the Irish market. Regulations and laws governing intolerance tests are currently being reviewed at EU level and the HPRA has been advocating that this should be a priority.

In a statement, the HPRA said:

Whilst the health risk posed by food intolerance tests would be considered low relative to other medical devices, there is potential for these to provide or be used to provide an incorrect or delayed diagnosis of gastrointestinal symptoms. A suggested diagnosis of food intolerance may also lead to important food groups being avoided and could lead to a dietary deficiency.

Though it has received no reports of safety issues in relation to tests like the one offered by AdisonLab, a recent trend of increased advertising of theses kinds of services has triggered the authority to carry out a surveillance programme on all similar tests offered on the Irish market. This has been underway since January of this year.

A number of kits have been bought by the HPRA so it can examine them and it is also assessing how results are presented to consumers. It is asking consumers to get in touch if they have complaints in relation to food intolerances tests, specifically if they relate to harm, safety concerns or poor performance.

“The HPRA would be concerned, as with all self-test products, that consumers might use these in isolation without the advice of a doctor and consequently make an inappropriate decision in relation to their diet and health,” it said.

AdisonLab has not responded to queries from TheJournal.ie relating to the HPRA investigation.

Read: Have food allergies? Life’s going to get a little easier for you next month>

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