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If you believe that a food sensitivity test will explain your unwanted symptoms, think again. Here we explain why and if you should consider taking a food allergy test instead.
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Identifying exactly which food or foods you may be sensitive to is a complicated process, as food sensitivities are still not well understood. So far, no food sensitivity panel can accurately and definitively diagnose food sensitivities.
Food allergy tests, however, may provide information about foods that are potentially dangerous for you.
This article explains what we know about food sensitivities and why food allergies may be easier to diagnose. It also explores what else may be going on if you think your symptoms might be related to a specific food.
Food sensitivity vs. food allergy vs. food intolerance
The terms “food sensitivity,” “food allergy,” and “food intolerance” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
- Food sensitivity: Food sensitivities are believed to
result froman immune reaction driven by antibodies such as immunoglobulin G (IgG), immunoglobulin M (IgM), and immunoglobulin A (IgA), along with other cell-mediated reactions in your body in response to specific food or groups of foods. Symptoms may include digestive distress, joint pain, brain fog, and migraine. These symptoms may be subtle and may not happen right away. Food sensitivities are not life threatening.
- Food allergy: This is a severe immune response to a food, which is often caused by increased production of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms occur within 2 hours and
may includehives, tongue swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and dizziness. Food allergies can be life threatening.
- Food intolerance: This
occurswhen your body lacks certain enzymes necessary to break down a food. It may cause stomach upset or other digestive problems, but it’s not related to your immune system and is not life threatening.
In short: No. There’s limited evidence to support using a food sensitivity test at home.
What’s more, many of the studies that companies cite to support using these tests are outdated or have been published in unreputable journals.
Some tests claim to help you understand how your body may respond to certain foods based on factors such as your genetic background. However, the
Multiple organizations, including the
Notably, food sensitivity tests are not a replacement for a personalized care plan from a doctor or registered dietitian.
If you experience symptoms including hives, itching, and swelling after eating certain foods, it’s important to rule out food allergies, which can be quite serious. In some cases, food allergies may lead to anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.
Doctors commonly use certain tests to diagnose food allergies:
- Skin test: This type of test involves pricking your skin with a probe that contains a small amount of food allergen and monitoring your reaction.
- Blood test: This test helps determine whether you are allergic to specific foods by measuring the amounts of certain antibodies in your blood.
- Oral food challenge: This procedure involves consuming small amounts of a suspected allergen under the supervision of a doctor. They will keep emergency equipment and medication on hand in case of a severe reaction.
At-home food allergy tests
For people who suspect they may have mild food allergies, an at-home food allergy test may be a first step in identifying potentially problematic foods.
The “first step” part is important. At-home food allergy tests are not as comprehensive or conclusive as food allergy tests administered by a medical professional. In particular, there are concerns about the high rate of false positives associated with them.
At best, these tests may help reveal a potential for a food allergy, which can only truly be diagnosed by a doctor.
A note on at-home food allergy tests
The AAAI currently does not endorse the use of at-home allergy testing. Additionally, at-home food allergy tests cannot officially diagnose a food allergy. Instead, they can help identify foods that you have the potential to be allergic to.
If your results suggest that you may have a potential allergy, make an appointment with an allergist to ensure accurate interpretation and establish a follow-up plan.
According to David D. Clarke, board certified gastroenterologist and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, many conditions may cause symptoms that can be incorrectly attributed to food sensitivity, including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gallstones, and peptic ulcer.
Other potential culprits include:
- Stress: Feeling stressed can cause symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating.
- Dehydration: In addition to dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue, not drinking enough water
can also leadto issues such as constipation.
- Sleep deprivation: Getting poor or inadequate sleep
can causebrain fog, trouble focusing, and digestive symptoms.
- Medications: Certain medications can cause side effects that may be similar to symptoms of a food sensitivity, including nausea, diarrhea, headaches, runny nose, and fatigue.
- Dietary habits: What you eat and drink can greatly affect your digestive system and may contribute to issues such as bloating. Some nutritional deficiencies can also
contributeto brain fog, fatigue, and depression.
- Food intolerance: Food intolerances may result in GI-related symptoms if your body cannot digest certain foods. Common sources of food intolerance include lactose, caffeine, sulfites, certain food additives, and fructose, which is a type of sugar found in fruits.
- Start a food and symptom journal: This can help you notice patterns to determine whether certain ingredients may be causing digestive issues or other symptoms. If you prefer not to keep a written record, several apps can make logging more convenient.
- Make an appointment with a doctor or dietitian: A health professional can help you rule out other potential causes of symptoms and determine whether you may have a food allergy or intolerance. They may also recommend an elimination diet to help identify potential trigger foods.
A food sensitivity test measures your body’s immune response to a variety of foods by testing the levels of certain antibodies in your blood, such as IgG and IgG4, after you’re exposed to various food antigens.
But the presence of these antibodies may not be an accurate or reliable marker of food sensitivity, especially because many other antibodies and cell-mediated reactions may be involved in food sensitivities.
Some food sensitivity tests claim to help you understand how your body may respond to certain foods based on factors such as your genetic background. However, research is limited on the topic of genetic testing and food allergies and sensitivities.
A food allergy test often involves pricking your skin with a small amount of a food allergen to evaluate whether it triggers an immune response. A doctor might also use blood tests and oral food challenges to diagnose a food allergy.
At-home food allergy tests involve collecting a small blood sample to be tested for the presence of IgE antibodies, which your body produces as protection from threat.
Taking a food sensitivity test at home is not currently considered a reliable or accurate method of diagnosing food sensitivities.
An at-food allergy test may reveal a potential for a food allergy, but only a medical doctor can provide a true diagnosis.
If you experience symptoms after eating certain foods, it’s best to talk with a health professional. They can rule out other potential causes, determine the best course of treatment, and provide guidance on necessary dietary changes.