First, look for
a study to come along, on which you can peg a press release. This one might do.
It looks at the association between dichlorophenols – chemicals used to
chlorinate water – and food allergic sensitisation, ie IgE-mediated food allergy.
The study made the news on the 3rd December 2012.
Food allergy triggered
by IgE antibodies can be deadly, especially in the case of nuts. It’s the big
one, responsible for causing anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals. You’ve
heard those tragic stories, haven’t you? They make the news occasionally, typically
it’s a teenager involved, often with asthma, a life is lost, and we all feel
wretched and helpless. Often food allergy is milder – lips tingling, light wheezing,
red rashes – but the key thing is that it is these IgE-triggered sensitivities
that the study looked at. The conclusion was that there was an association
between the two: excessive use of these water purifying chemicals could be a
contributory factor to increasing food allergy.
as the wise among you will know, are entirely different. They can be caused by
enzyme deficiency (as in lactose intolerance), for instance, but other mechanisms
are unclear in idiopathic cases, and on the whole we’re talking bowel symptoms,
headaches and such like; they generally can be a bit harder to pin down, and
the effects less serious. Nothing as dramatic as plunging blood pressure and
inability to breathe, you understand. IgE antibodies are in no way involved.
YorkTest is a
laboratory offering food intolerance tests based on measurements of IgG
antibodies – a class of antibody distinct to IgE. The IgG thing was an
interesting, emerging area about a decade ago, and when I first looked into it
when researching my book on food intolerance, it seemed to show some promise, and in
the book I was mildly optimistic. The theory was that raised IgG antibodies in
the blood might indicate a milder form of food-sensitivity reaction – food intolerance,
essentially – much in the way raised IgE antibodies in the blood might indicate
a more serious food-sensitivity reaction – allergy.
YorkTest Laboratories supply in support of IgG testing for food intolerance totals a few papers. The audits in particular are poor and of little value, to my mind.
The good trial –
now looking increasingly isolated with the passage of time – is the well-known Whorwell of 2004 published in Gut which concluded that “Food elimination based on IgG antibodies
may be effective in reducing IBS symptoms and is worthy of further biomedical
research.” But this was just one trial, looking only at irritable bowel. The
authors themselves later stated that “they may not be relevant in food intolerance in general” – a comment you’re unlikely to find on the YorkTest
Further good studies
in support of IgG have not followed in the years since, and brains bigger than
mine have concluded that the evidence is insufficient. (See Food Sensitivity
Testing page at the top for links to studies and expert opinion.)
Back to Water Purification Chemicals …
On the 5th
December – two days after the news about food allergy and water purification
chemicals – I received a press release from Yorktest’s PRs, CCD, titled “Chlorine in tap water linked to increase in
number of people developing food intolerances”.
Chlorine in tap
water has been linked to the rising number of people developing food allergies
and intolerances, a study has revealed.
The title is
plainly inaccurate, and the subsequent lines partly so. The research linked
chlorine to food allergy – not intolerance.
Researchers found adults with high levels of dichlorophenol – a chemical
by-product of chlorine – in their urine, were up to 80 per cent more likely to
have a food allergy or intolerance.
The press release
continued, abandoning allergy and pressing forward with the self-serving intolerance
angle. “Help is at hand from YorkTest,” we were told, whose test can “uncover
potential food and drink triggers”.
The aim of a
press release, of course, is to get the client publicity and – bingo – six days
later, this appeared in the Daily Mirror (readership: 3 million plus). It’s an
article alternately about allergies and intolerances, including some sad
stories, which mentions several individuals and bodies, including YorkTest –
the apparent inspiration for the story via the press release above. Job done,
A PR’s job is often a tunnel-vision one: to get publicity for the
client. Newspapers and magazines are filled these days with
material sourced from or inspired by press releases, and it’s a depressing
state of affairs. Read Nick Davies’ devastatingly brilliant Flat Earth News for more.
There are a lot
of reasons for this. I know folk get aggravated when writers confuse or
conflate or inappropriately mix up allergy, intolerance and coeliac, and there
was a time, of course, when a journalist might have researched the material in
a press release in greater depth and more critically, and spend more time in
general background research. They could afford to. Rates for journalism were
good. Now they are poor. To make a living, you’ve got to ‘churn’ articles
quickly. Also, health journalists don’t often have medical backgrounds (I
don’t). Editors are increasingly under pressure to just get pages filled, and
will convey that pressure to the writer. Journos are therefore increasingly
vulnerable to being misled by press releases. If you’re pressured and overworked, you cut corners; I know, as I have.
The losers are
you, the readers – who don’t get the journalism you deserve, and are subject to
being confused about conflicting advice and misinformation appearing in various
And another one …
This blog was going
to end hereabouts, but as I write this on Sunday the 20th another email
and press release from CCD has just arrived.
The email (edited extracts):
“Welcome to the
most depressing day of the year! Monday 21st January … has a reputation of
being the most sullen day ... A combination of post-christmas blues, dark
evenings and unpaid credit card bills all contribute to making today the most
But hold on a
minute: this “sullen mood may be due to your diet” I am informed. “Why not use
today of all days to find out if food intolerances are making today your most
depressing day?” Because, as usual, “… help is at hand from YorkTest …” even
though there’s no study linking depression and IgG antibodies on their science page, and none that I know of in the literature.
ends up in some form in the media remains to be seen (do let me know if you see
anything). Meanwhile, I’ll try to find some comfort in the fact that, while my
mood may indeed be sullen right now, I do not need one of YorkTest's £299 Food&DrinkScan Programmes to know that it’s nothing to do with food
Labels: IgG testing, YorkTest