Identifying food sensitivities and/or allergies can be a time consuming and often expensive task. Elimination diets are considered the most accurate method but they can take months to complete by which time you may have developed new or different sensitivities, especially if you have leaky gut syndrome due to underlying infections or inflammation. The food allergy tests available on the market can be helpful but they are not 100% accurate. These tests can cost up to several hundred dollars and may not be covered by insurance, which makes them cost-prohibitive for many of us. Muscle testing or ART (autonomic response testing) is an excellent way to determine food intolerances but you will need access to a practitioner who is proficient in ART.
Thankfully there is a simpler option for determining if certain foods are your friend or foe compliments of an immunologist named Arthur F. Coca who discovered a method of testing reactions to specific foods that requires no equipment and can be done by anyone in their own home at no cost. Dr. Coca’s theory was that if someone has a sensitivity or allergy to a food, it would cause a stress response in the body indicated by an accelerated heart rate.
Dr. Coca’s wife who was a medical researcher was diagnosed with a debilitating case of angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease) and given a five-year life expectancy by two cardiologists. She noticed that her attacks would occur within a few minutes of eating and began to realize that it was always after eating certain foods. She would eat these offending foods and inevitably her pulse would speed up and she would have an attack of angina.
Dr. Coca began tracking what she ate and how her pulse changed after each food. Eventually they compiled a list of all the foods that caused her pulse to accelerate and removed them from her diet. Not only did her angina disappear, but other health problems and symptoms she’d had went away as well.
After this happy accident Dr. Coca began using this method of testing on other patients who all had similar results. Any food that caused a patients’ heart rate to increase was identified as a problematic food. When his patients removed these foods, their symptoms went away, and if the problematic foods were reintroduced, the same symptoms would reappear. He published his book The Pulse Test back in 1956 and to this day many well-respected practitioners, including my boss, Dr. Klinghardt, recommend this method for assessing food sensitivities and allergies.
So while it may take some time to test every food in your diet, it will be a lot simpler and more affordable to try this method out at home. Dr. Coca’s book is now public domain and you can read or download it here. His instructions are somewhat involved (detailed in part 7 of his book) but there is a simple method you can use to get the same information. Keep in mind that while this test is not a perfect science, it can be extremely helpful in determining which foods are causing stress to your body.
The simplest method for this test is as follows:
1.) Get ready with a pen, paper or tracking chart, a stopwatch or watch with a second hand, and whatever food(s) you want to test. Be sure to test individual ingredients vs. foods with several ingredients so you can identify exactly what you are and are not reacting to.
2.) Sit down long enough that you are relaxed. Don’t try to do this after exercising or being active. Additionally, do not take the test when feeling angry, or upset since these emotions will effect your digestion and parasympathetic nervous system. Take a few deep breaths, then take your “before” pulse for a full 60 seconds and write it down. You can take your pulse at your neck or wrist, but make sure you always take it from the same place.
3.) Put the food/drink/supplement that you want to test in your mouth and chew it or roll it around for about 30 seconds, but don’t swallow it. If your central nervous system perceives that substance as a threat or stressor, your pulse will increase. Keep the substance in your mouth and take your pulse again for another 60 seconds, uninterrupted, and write down the “after” result. The more your pulse increases, the worse the reaction to that food. An increase of 6 or more beats (less if you are Blood Type O) indicates a sensitivity or allergy to that food. Dr. Coca recommended not testing any foods you already know are problematic for you.
4.) Spit out the food you first tested, rinse your mouth with water and spit it out. Always wait until your pulse has returned to your normal or “before” rate before testing another food, drink or supplement. This can take up to several minutes depending on the severity of your reaction. You can test as many foods this way as you like or have time for.
It is recommended that you avoid any food you react negatively to for at least 6 weeks before re-testing. But the good news is that unlike true allergies, food sensitivities can be reversed if the problematic foods are removed long enough and the gut is given the proper support to heal. For those dealing with chronic illness or autoimmune disease, I recommend eliminating offending foods completely for 6-9 months and retesting them at that time. Some people may choose to retest every three months, especially if their diet is very restricted and they wish to reintroduce foods as quickly as possible. If you continue reacting to a food after testing three months in a row, you should avoid that food permanently.
When you re-test a food and no longer have an increased pulse, you can safely reintroduce it, but you will need to test it again after one month. If you experience an increased pulse again you have probably added in too much of that food, so eliminate it for another month and then try again, eating smaller quantities of that food less frequently.
The Nutritional Therapy Association also provides a test form that you can use to track your results. Keep in mind that if you smoke or are taking a beta-blocker, calcium-channel blocker or other medication that controls heart rate, you will not get accurate results from this test.
The Pulse Test by Arthur F. Coca M.D.
The Autonomic Nervous System and its Relationship to Headache
by Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, M.D., PhD
Coca Pulse Test by Dr. Jay Cullinane
How To Do Food Sensitivity Testing At Home by Lauren Geertsen, NTP