The topic of food intolerance testing has been the subject of recent publications by both the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The PSI has recently informed pharmacists that they should not offer food intolerance testing services to diagnose food intolerance. The Registrar of the PSI, Niall Byrne has stated that “the only clinically valid method for the diagnosis and treatment of food intolerance is an elimination diet which should be carried out under the supervision of a registered dietician or medical professional”.

Mr Byrne went to say that in line with the Code of Conduct for pharmacist’s tests or health checks should only be performed by pharmacists or offered in pharmacies where there is an established clinical and scientific base and where the validity, accuracy and reliability of the test can be assured.

The communication from the PSI to pharmacists followed a notice issued by the HPRA which advised the public and healthcare practitioners that products being promoted as food intolerance tests cannot diagnose food intolerance. The HPRA went further and advised the public not to act on the results of these test without seeking expert advice from a doctor or registered dietician. The HPRA is the body responsible in Ireland for the regulation of medical devices and products placed on the market for sale.

The HPRA notice was issued following market research it carried out of food intolerance products available in Ireland. The market research included consultation with clinical experts to examine the safety and performance of food intolerance tests. As the cause of food intolerance is not yet known, tests, including blood sample tests and those involving hair and saliva, have little clinical validity.

The distinction between a food intolerance and a food allergy was outlined by the HPRA. Whilst the first can produce unpleasant symptoms the second can cause serious allergic reactions or anaphylaxis

The publications above conform to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) publication “Food Hypersensitivity Food Allergy and Intolerance” published in 2015. The FSAI publication outlines that diagnosis of a food allergy or intolerance should involve medical consultation and notes the unreliability of self-diagnosis.

For people with a food allergy or intolerance the FSAI has initiated an early warning system for those who have registered with FSAI. This system allows a real–time transfer via email and SMS text messaging of information about food allergy issues as FSAI becomes aware of them. Registration is through the FSAI website, which can be accessed here.