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Many people experience food sensitivities, which are immune responses to specific foods that can worsen or trigger a wide range of symptoms (
Though many types of at-home tests claim to help identify food sensitivities, there is conflicting research on the reliability of these tests and whether they should be recommended.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what a food sensitivity is, whether at-home testing kits are accurate, and what steps you can take if you suspect you have a food sensitivity.
A food sensitivity occurs when your immune system reacts to a specific food. This can cause a variety of adverse symptoms.
Food sensitivities are believed to result from an immune reaction driven by antibodies such as immunoglobulin G (IgG), immunoglobulin M (IgM), and immunoglobulin A (IgA), along with other cell-mediated reactions in the body (
Food sensitivities are not life threatening but can cause unpleasant symptoms.
For example, research has linked non-celiac gluten sensitivity — a food sensitivity triggered by a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — to symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, brain fog, depression, and skin inflammation (
Though more studies on food sensitivities are necessary, research suggests that some people may be sensitive to certain foods or substances, including nightshade vegetables and lectins. Lectins are a type of proteins found in many plant foods, such as legumes (
Keep in mind that a food sensitivity is different from a food allergy or intolerance.
A food allergy is a type of immune response triggered by the proteins found in a specific food (
Unlike a food allergy or a food sensitivity, a food intolerance does not involve the immune system.
Up to 20% of the population may experience food intolerances, which occur when your body cannot digest a specific food. This can happen if your body lacks certain enzymes that are necessary to break down that food (
Food sensitivity tests typically check how your immune system responds to different types of food.
A food sensitivity is driven by cell-mediated reactions and antibodies such as IgG, IgM, and IgA, while an allergic reaction is often caused by IgE (
While there are some at-home testing options for food allergies, many require a referral from a medical professional. However, several at-home tests that claim to identify potential food sensitivities are available online.
The manufacturers of food sensitivity tests claim that these tests can help you find out which foods are triggering symptoms such as gas and bloating. Some testing companies also offer actionable steps to help you reduce your symptoms.
Some companies market their food sensitivity tests as a way to help determine how your body may respond to certain ingredients or nutrients.
The tests vary based on the following factors:
- Sample collection: Tests may involve collecting hair strands, cheek swabs, breath tests, or blood samples.
- Type of results: Tests offer a range of results, from food intolerances to your genetic responses to food, exercise, and more.
- Type of support: Not all companies offer support for making changes, but many offer customized information to help you improve your health.
However, as we’ll discuss next, at-home tests may not be reliable indicators of food sensitivities and cannot diagnose specific food sensitivities.
Many at-home food sensitivity tests measure 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 (
However, there is limited evidence to support the use of these tests.
“Most at-home tests and even tests done in laboratories for food sensitivity have not been studied in a scientifically rigorous way,” explained Dr. David D. Clarke, board certified gastroenterologist and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.
Additionally, some studies suggest that the presence of these antibodies may not be an accurate or reliable marker of a food sensitivity, especially because many other antibodies and cell-mediated reactions may be involved in food sensitivities (
Multiple organizations, including the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), have advised against using these tests to diagnose food sensitivities (
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 research surrounding genetic testing and food allergies and sensitivities is also quite limited (
Overall, more reliable testing methods are necessary before at-home testing kits can be recommended to diagnose food sensitivities.
The field of food sensitivity testing is constantly evolving, and new research is emerging regularly. It is possible that more accurate at-home food sensitivity testing methods may become available in the future.
Several at-home testing companies offer IgG food panel tests. They claim that these tests can help identify foods you may be sensitive to by testing the levels of IgG antibodies in your blood after exposure to a variety of food antigens (14, 15).
Many companies claim that removing these foods from your diet can ease digestive issues and relieve symptoms related to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and even epilepsy (14).
However, according to the AAAAI, these tests have not been proven accurate, and most health organizations do not recommend them (14).
Furthermore, many of the studies that companies cite to support the use of these tests are outdated or have been published in non-reputable journals (14).
For these reasons, Healthline does not currently endorse the use of IgG-based at-home food sensitivity tests.
At-home food sensitivity tests are associated with several risks.
According to Aleta Storch, registered dietitian and founder of Wise Heart Nutrition, “At-home tests [can] provide a list of false positives for food sensitivities, and this leads to panic, fear, and restriction around food.”
In addition to making it more challenging to meet your nutritional needs, this could cause or worsen disordered eating habits in some people.
Notably, food sensitivity tests are not a replacement for a personalized care plan from a registered dietitian or gastroenterologist.
The tests cannot address other possible health concerns that a health professional would. And trying certain treatment methods — such as elimination diets — on your own can potentially be harmful.
This is because elimination diets can be very restrictive, often requiring you to exclude multiple food groups, many of which are highly nutritious.
“One of the biggest risks of eliminating foods without the appropriate support (and oftentimes even under the supervision of a professional) is the anxiety and fear that develops around reintroducing foods, which can snowball into disordered eating, obsession, and orthorexia,” said Storch.
Storch recommends consulting a healthcare professional before attempting an elimination diet. A healthcare professional can provide recommendations to prevent nutrient deficiencies and guide you as you reintroduce foods to your diet.
If you believe you have a food sensitivity or you are experiencing unexplained symptoms, the following two steps may help you identify the cause:
- 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, there are several apps that can make logging more convenient.
- Make an appointment with a doctor or dietitian: A health professional can help rule out other potential causes of symptoms and determine whether you may have a food allergy or intolerance.
A healthcare professional may recommend an elimination diet, which involves removing potential trigger foods from your diet and reintroducing them slowly to determine which ones may contribute to your symptoms (
Because this diet can be restrictive, time-consuming, and difficult to follow, you should attempt it only with the supervision of a registered dietitian or another qualified health professional.
A professional can provide guidance on how to meet your nutritional needs while following an elimination diet. They might also recommend further testing to diagnose specific food allergies or intolerances and identify potential trigger foods.
While at-home food sensitivity tests are not recommended for diagnosing food sensitivities, they may help narrow down potential trigger foods, especially when used alongside other treatments and testing methods, such as an elimination diet.
“There are many conditions that can be responsible for digestive symptoms that might go undiagnosed if the symptoms are incorrectly attributed to a food sensitivity,” said Clarke. “Among the most common are irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gallstones, and peptic ulcer.”
Other factors, such as stress, can also cause digestive issues and other symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating (19).
Many medications can cause digestive side effects. For example, antibiotics, cancer drugs, and certain types of antacids can cause diarrhea. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin can increase the risk of nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain (22, 23).
Some dietary habits — including drinking carbonated beverages, eating spicy foods, eating foods high in sugar or fat, and consuming certain vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage — can also lead to digestive issues such as bloating (24).
Food allergies or intolerances
Severe food allergies can cause anaphylaxis, a very serious allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention (26).
Food intolerances may also result in symptoms if your body cannot digest certain foods.
For example, lactose intolerance is a common food intolerance characterized by the inability to digest milk or dairy products. It results in digestive issues such as gas and bloating (
This can occur if your body does not make enough lactase, which is the enzyme necessary to break down lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose (
If you’re experiencing symptoms after eating certain foods, it’s important to rule out food allergies, which can be more severe than food sensitivities or intolerances.
Food allergies can cause several serious symptoms, including hives, itching, swelling, and digestive issues (
In some cases, food allergies may lead to anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening (26).
When testing for food allergies, a doctor will likely collect information about your symptoms, diet, and medical history.
- 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.
Though at-home food allergy tests are available, some may require a referral from a doctor.
You can order certain food allergy tests online from companies like Labcorp, which allows you to view your results online after providing a blood sample at a location near you.
Healthline’s picks of the best at-home food allergy tests
- Price: $149
- Sample type: blood sample
- Results time frame: weeks
The Everlywell Food Allergy Test measures your body’s IgE reactivity to nine common food allergens: cow’s milk, egg white, egg yolk, soy, shrimp, tuna, wheat, peanut, and almond.
As with the company’s other tests, your sample will be processed in a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified lab, and an independent board certified physician will review and approve your results.
You’ll need to you take your sample at home and mail it in. Everlywell says you should be able to access your results through the company’s secure platform within weeks.
If your results indicate a possible food allergy, a nurse from Everlywell will contact you to discuss the next steps.
- at-home test
- CLIA-certified lab
- results reviewed by an independent board certified physician
- nurse available to discuss next steps
- digital results for easy access
- easy to share results with a healthcare professional
- may take weeks to receive results
- Price: $199
- Sample type: blood sample
- Results time frame: not disclosed online
This food allergy test from Labcorp measures IgE antibody levels in your blood for 16 potential food allergens.
Once you buy the test on the company’s website, you receive a requisition number, which you can bring to any Labcorp location to provide a blood sample.
You can view your test results on the Labcorp patient portal and download an official report, which you can bring to a healthcare professional for further guidance.
- easy to view results online
- downloadable report for sharing results with a healthcare professional
- relatively expensive
- requires blood sample at a Labcorp location
- Price: $209 plus $6 physician fee
- Sample type: blood sample
- Results time frame: not disclosed online
This panel tests for 15 food-related allergens by measuring levels of IgE antibodies in your blood.
It’s recommended for those who experience mild allergy symptoms after eating certain foods but not for those with more severe symptoms, such as tingling or itching of the mouth, dizziness, and swelling of the throat or airways.
After purchasing the test online, you can schedule an appointment at a Quest Patient Service Center to provide a blood sample. Once your sample has been processed, you can access your results online using the secure patient portal, MyQuest.
It’s still recommended that you review your results with a healthcare professional to confirm any food allergies after taking this test.
- easy to access and understand results via patient portal
- option to share your results with a healthcare professional through MyQuest
- requires a blood sample at a Quest Patient Service Center
- not suitable for those with severe allergy symptoms
- not available in Arkansas, Arizona, or Hawaii
- relatively expensive
Are food sensitivity tests covered by insurance?
No. Most at-home food sensitivity tests are not covered by insurance.
Your insurance may cover food sensitivity tests that your doctor orders, but that’s not guaranteed.
How often should you get tested for food sensitivities?
It’s common for food sensitivities to change over time. You may need to visit a doctor or registered dietitian every 1–2 years, or sooner if you notice changes in symptoms.
Can an at-home food sensitivity test diagnose a food allergy?
While some at-home testing kits can measure levels of IgE antibodies in your blood, you still need to review your results with a healthcare professional to receive a diagnosis for a food allergy.
A food sensitivity is a type of immune response to specific foods that can cause a wide range of adverse symptoms.
At-home food sensitivity tests are not currently considered a reliable or accurate method of diagnosing food sensitivities.
Therefore, if you suspect you have a food sensitivity, it’s best to consult a health professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian.
In addition to ruling out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as food allergies or intolerances, a professional can determine the best course of treatment and provide guidance on necessary dietary changes.