Are home testing kits any good? October newsletter

Welcome to my October newsletter

Having got back from Greece a fortnight ago, I found the UK in the midst of a heat wave and two weeks later the weather is still glorious. Greece was its usual fabulousness – great food and the sea hot enough to have a good swim. Hit the road running when I came back, with a couple of corporate health days, and here we are again with the monthly newsletter – the time is flying by! This month I’ve decided to look at diagnostic testing, not only what I offer, but what’s on the high street and whether its any good. More and more we are turning to over the counter diagnostic kits to help in giving us a better understanding of our health. It used to be just home blood pressure monitors that were common but there is an array of self help tests. I shopped around a bit and made some interesting conclusions. There’s also a delicious recipe for spicy pumpkin soup. Enjoy!

What testing is available through a nutritionist?
Often, my patients will either require or ask for further testing. This is there to help the diagnostic process and will often bring up areas of health that have not been covered with conventional tests. Approximately 50% of people I see go on to have blood, stool or urine tests, copies of which are sent to their GP if appropriate, for further action. Generally these tests cover more chronic conditions than acute and look at the body in more detail.

Tests available

Stool testing: these are incredibly popular and after serious conditions are ruled out with colonoscopies and endoscopies etc they prove invaluable at looking at the microbiology of the bowel in more detail. They assess, gut flora levels, yeast infections and lesser known parasites that can particularly help in the diagnosis of Irritable bowel syndrome.

Adrenal function: a 28 day saliva test measuring DHEA and cortisol – useful for diagnosing “burnout” or reasons behind long term fatigue or insomnia.

Hormonal profile: similar to the adrenal function test – a 28 day saliva test thats gives a curve of exactly what your hormones are doing on a day to day basis over a month- really useful for any kind of PMT/PMS/PCOS etc.

Standard blood tests: Full blood count, thyroid, B12, cholesterol: these are standard tests that are done through the GP but can also be done through me.

Functional B vitamins: another very popular test particularly useful for those with mental health disorders/stress anxiety and depression – this measures individual B vitamins i.e. B1, B2, and B6, which are often low in these disorders.

Essential fatty acid profile: invaluable for those with inflammatory disorders, lupus, eczema etc. You can assess your omega 3 and 6 status, and the ratio between the two which is key in inflammation.

Red cell magnesium:- this goes one step further than serum magnesium and looks at what is getting into the cells on a cellular level – I use it when there is cardiac arrythmia and chronic fagtiue- this is often very low in many people.

Vitamin D: essential for the immune system and another test I often run with Chronic fatigue syndromes or those spending more time inside/out of the sun.

Allergy and food intolerance: oddly I don’t use these as often as you would think – I don’t rate food intolerance testing – but will do IgE allergy testing as its rarely available on the NHS – there are a wide range of panels you can do or test one item in particular that you suspect. I find these tests useful in real allergy where someone cannot find what food/drug/plant is causing the problem.

Homocysteine: not readily available on the NHS and very useful in patients who would like to prevent heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s etc. Often high in those with heart disease.

Panel tests

If someone wanted to try and prevent osteoporosis I might recommend a panel of tests
eg an osteoporosis, screen, serum mineral profile, essential fatty acids and vitamin D. For ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) I’d recommend B1,B3, B12, folate, EFA’s, serum mineral profile, red cell,magnesium, vitamin C and ferritin. For heart disease: I’d recommend B6, B12, folate, EFA’s, chromium, red cell magnesium. .

From lactose breath tests to CoQ10, you name it, it can be tested! It is also often better to test if you are going to take a supplement on a longer term basis. Whilst I appreciate that not everyone can afford these tests, some of them are much cheaper than you would think. Diagnostic testing starts at about £10 and can go up to several hundred depending on what you need. They are helpful in forming a better picture of exactly how your body is functioning and can aid in speeding up recovery.

What’s available on the High Street?

There are literally hundreds of home testing kits online and on the high street – I had no idea there were so many. These are the most popular:

Blood sugar monitors, Vitamin D profile, Osteoporosis screen, Coeliac screen, Allergy testing, Food intolerance testing, Prostate cancer kit, Stomach ulcer kit, Bowel cancer kit, Blood pressure machines.

In particular I looked at the following:

Boots Cholesterol Test. Price £12.25. It measures the total cholesterol only, so no HDL/LDL. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t see your GP for this. As we now know the ratio between HDL and LDL is so important this test does not give you the complete picture.

Biotech Biocard Coeliac Test. Price £20.42. I think I’d want a consultant or my GP to do this test as it’s a serious disease, needing expert help and support.

Boots Home Bowel Test. Price £12.25. Tests for blood in the stool – so what happens if you find blood, will you definitely go and see your GP (who will only test it again) or will you sit at home too anxious to do anything about the result?

Novagon Menopause Strip. Price: £16.35. I could see the point of this test. However its only useful if you know that you are not going to take HRT. If you have decided you want to try HRT, then you would need to see your GP who would do blood tests anyway.

Boots Pharmaceutical Multi Allergy Test. Price £19.99. This could be useful if you had a mild allergy and wasn’t sure what inhalent it was. Waiting lists are long for referral to allergy specialists – so this might get you some way to finding out what the allergy was- but its a little hit and miss for me.

Boots Blood Glucose Test. Price. £25.29. Failed to tell you that blood sugar is raised after a meal, or ingestion of sugar. I don’t have diabetes and recently tested how high my blood sugar went after eating cake with glucose fructose syrup – it was a high – 12 mmol. If I’d done the test, I would have thought I’d got diabetes. Again not enough information.

Selfcheck Health Test . Price £15.30. Measuring for raised PSA levels for prostate cancer. Does not tell you that they are raised after exercise, sex and a UTI.

There are many self testing kits on the high street and as seen above, some are aimed at conditions as serious as prostate and bowel cancer, stomach ulcers as well as uti, blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Whilst spending some time in various chemists and on line I’ve picked up quite a few and have to say I was a little concerned. Some of the instructions were not that clear to start with, and I’m not sure unless you were well qualified if you would chose the right kit in the first place.

I am also concerned about a false positive result. This may cause fear or anxiety when you may actually be well, or worse a false negative that might actually stop you getting medical help in the first place. Let’s take high cholesterol for instance. This can be linked to heart disease but it can also be a symptom of an under active thyroid – the high street test isn’t going to tell you that, but your GP could. Most of the tests I found were between £5 and £30. The only problem I have is that if you purchase them and they are positive, your GP will ask for the test to be repeated anyway so I’m not really sure the point of most of them.

I’ve never recommended any of my patients to try self test kits. The only two worth their weight in gold are blood pressure machines, (particularly if you have white coat syndrome as many peoples blood pressure while relaxed at home can be lower than in the surgery) and the blood glucose monitor, invaluable for diabetics. I can to a point see how men might find these home kits appealing, particularly with conditions of the prostate but do we really want to be trusting a high street test which will not give us a full picture anyway?

What about back up? You always need someone to talk through the test results with you otherwise you can be left high and dry as to what to do next. So clearly, you can see I’m not a fan of high street tests. Many of my patients have done their cholesterol and the test for coeliac and again I’d only suggest that they get it done properly with a GP anyway.

So in conclusion if you are in any doubt about your health, your GP should always be your first port of call regardless of symptoms and conditions.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup – serves 4

I get even more excited by autumn/winter vegetables than I do with summer salads! I absolutely adore squash but was always put off by the time it took to hack through with a kitchen knife – until I found frozen squash which is already cut up and even cheaper in price. For a really plain version you can simmer the squash in stock with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Take the rosemary out after 20 mins and blitz with seasoning. So simple. So delicious.

Ingredients: 1kg squash or pumpkin (or x 2 500g packs of frozen).

25g sunflower seeds, Olive oil, 1 large onion,1 tsp ground coriander,1 tsp chili flakes, 1 litre of vegetable stock and 160ml coconut cream.

Place squash on a baking sheet and bake in an oven 200oC gas mark 6 for 20 mins or until soft. Place seeds on a small tray and bake in oven for 5 minutes. Keep to one side to decorate. Heat olive oil and fry onion, add coriander and chili flakes and fry for a minute. Add the cooked pumpkin to pan, pour in the stock and add the coconut cream. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins. Remove from heat and whizz til smooth. Serve with toasted sunflower seeds and hunks of bread.

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