Andy Murray and his food intolerance tests: gluten free, dairy free, not coeliac

I’d heard a few mutterings that Andy Murray, like his friend and tennis rival Novak Djokovic, had been making adjustments to his diet – and now we have some confirmation.

In a press conference with the media ahead of the US Open, Murray was asked about his diet and gave some curious replies. (Scroll down to the last half dozen or so questions for the relevant bits.)

He says he is not intolerant to gluten (the popular name for the proteins triggering reactions in coeliac disease patients), but does have a problem with gliadin (found only in wheat, also associated, but not exclusively, with coeliac disease – fascinating and telling, in itself, that he’s heard of it), so seems to avoid all common gluten products. He has also eliminated cows’ milk, and there are suggestions of other adjustments too.

In trying to fathom what kind of food allergy or food intolerance testing Murray may have undergone, I find the most revealing quote this one:

“…I retest after the US Open, and then you get your results back again because it changes. Like when you cut stuff out, hopefully it’s gonna come on the green list again. So maybe after the US Open I can start reintroducing those foods back into my diet.”

I’m uncertain, but from this I would speculate he has undergone IgG food intolerance testing – a blood test which looks for raised IgG antibodies to various foods, and is based on the idea that these could be the cause or indicators of reactions.

While I was writing my first book, Living with Food Intolerance, in 2004, the IgG theory was a bit newer and more interesting. There had been a study in York which showed that it may have some relevance to those with IBS, and some experts I spoke with thought it was an interesting avenue of research. Since then, no real additional evidence has emerged, and in my experience the experts seem to have become considerably more sceptical – as have I.

Has Andy Murray undergone a test for which there is little supporting evidence? It seems so to me. He says he feels better. Should it all matter?

I came across another interview with Andy Murray, given a few weeks earlier.

He says:

“Well, I just did some blood tests for allergies and some blood tests for basically food intolerances. I think it’s something that most athletes should do. I’ve always eaten pretty well, but when you get the tests back you can be a lot more specific with what you eat and what you shouldn’t eat and you're putting the things in your body that you need.”

This seems a bit confused, and aspects of the previous interview also suggest, as he admits, that he doesn’t really understand it well – which makes me wonder about the kind of advice he is being given, especially as he also says he wasn’t experiencing any particular reactions. The tests don’t reveal foods ‘that you need’, for starters. Possibly more importantly: is he really in a position to advise what ‘most athletes should do’?

To be clear, I’m obviously glad he feels better. However, should he win the US Open, and even partly attribute that victory to his intolerance testing, I think it could be a potential cause for concern.

Because we’ve been there before. Two months ago I blogged about Novak Djokovic and his gluten free diet. Not a day has passed since that the post hasn’t received a number of hits via online searches – so people are still looking for information on this. A lot of what I said there is relevant here, I think – particularly all the reasons mentioned concerning health improvement after eliminating gluten and/or the junk food in which it is found. If a similar thing happens with Murray, it could generate a lot of publicity – much more than Djokovic – and once again I’m not sure how beneficial it would be to the public’s understanding of food sensitivities.

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