STAFF at a York laboratory were celebrating today after scientists proved their food intolerance test could bring real health benefits to sufferers from the chronic condition irritable bowel syndrome.

Research results delivered to the American Gastroenterological Association's Digestive Disease Week conference in Orlando, Florida, bring to an end a 21-year battle by YorkTest - formerly the York Nutritional Laboratory - to have their methods taken seriously by the scientific establishment.

A clinical study of 150 outpatients at the University Hospital of South Manchester suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) revealed a significant number of those who cut certain foods out of their diet after taking YorkTest's food intolerance test showed real improvement in their health.

"It feels as if we've come of age," said YorkTest managing director John Graham today. "This is independent scientific confirmation at last that what we have been saying for so many years is true.

"We hope now that the medical world will start to use the expertise here in York to help what are likely to be the many millions of people with diseases such as IBS."

The pin-prick blood test offered by the York laboratory enables a patient's blood to be tested against a range of up to 113 food substances for signs of sensitivity.

For years, the firm has been claiming that sufferers from a range of chronic conditions can transform the quality of their lives by cutting foods to which they are sensitive from their diet.

They have had plenty of anecdotal evidence in the form of satisfied customers to back up their claims - but until now, no hard scientific evidence.

The study presented to the American conference changes all that. Professor Trevor Sheldon, of the University of York's Department of Health Sciences, who designed the trial, confirmed today that a significant proportion of IBS sufferers taking part in the trial who acted upon the YorkTest results by cutting out foods they were sensitive to showed real health benefits. "It proves that food elimination can improve symptoms of IBS," he said.

University Hospital of South Manchester consultant gastroenterologist Dr Peter Whorwell said: "Patients eliminating foods... as determined by YorkTest Laboratories experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms, providing evidence that this approach may be very valuable in treating this condition."

IBS can cause a range of symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, bloated stomach, nausea and vomiting. The condition affects about 15 per cent of the population - and accounts for something like one in ten of all GP visits.

Mr Graham hopes the medical establishment will ultimately have enough confidence in the York test to offer it through GP surgeries.

He added the York laboratory was now keen to co-operate with scientists on a range of trials to judge the effectiveness of the food test in helping other patients suffering from chronic conditions such as arthritis, migraine and even autism.

Updated: 10:25 Tuesday, May 20, 2003