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At-home food sensitivity tests, specifically IgG tests, do not reliably identify triggers for food-induced conditions. Allergy societies recommend against their use for food sensitivities and allergies.
At-home food sensitivity tests claim to help a person gain insight into which foods may be causing a person’s uncomfortable digestive symptoms.
However, there is no scientific evidence that suggests these tests have clinical value. As such, an at-home food sensitivity test does not replace diagnosis or treatment from a doctor or other healthcare professional.
This article discusses food sensitivities, when to take a test, how they work, and lists three of the best at-home allergy tests to consider.
Three commonly used terms describing reactions to food are:
Sensitivity and intolerance refer to the body’s inability to process or digest certain foods. This may be due to deficiencies in certain enzymes, sensitivity to additives, or natural chemicals in food.
Sensitivity vs. intolerance
It is important to note that the term “food sensitivity” is not clearly defined in medical literature. The generally accepted and well-defined term is “food intolerance.” However, these terms are often used interchangeably.
Food intolerance can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including:
Food sensitivity or intolerance is not the same as an allergy.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), approximately 32 million people have food allergies in the United States.
Food allergy usually leads to the most severe reaction to a specific food, caused by the body’s immune system reacting to a substance. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology lists the most common trigger foods as:
What are common food sensitivities?
Some commonly reported food sensitivities include:
- Gluten: Gluten is present in many grains and foods, such as pasta, bread, baked goods, and condiments.
- Lactose: This is present in milk and dairy products, such as cheese, yogurt, and butter.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate.
- Salicylates: These are present in a range of foods, including some fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, spices, honey, and nuts.
- Histamine: Histamine is the most common trigger, which occurs in fermented foods, cured meats, dried fruit, citrus fruit, and avocado.
- Sulphites: These are found in cider, beer, and wine.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This is found in ripened fruits, cured meat, and certain savory food.
At-home food sensitivity testing kits usually require a person to submit a sample, which could be:
- blood from a skin prick test
- strands of hair
- a mouth swab
- a breath test
Typically, people should collect this sample after exposure to food antigens. Different tests will provide specific instructions.
For most at-home food sensitivity tests, the user must send this sample to a lab for testing. Many kits test specifically for levels of antigens such as IgG that may alter after exposure to certain foods.
The companies will then provide the results within a few days or weeks, sometimes via an online portal or smartphone app.
There is no definitive evidence that at-home food sensitivity tests can identify food triggers for any condition.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) writes that the scientific studies looking into the effectiveness of the commonly used IgG tests are often older and in non-reputable journals.
The AAAAI states that the presence of antibodies such as IgG, which home kits typically test for, does not reliably identify food triggers for any food-induced condition. In fact, it writes that raised IgG levels are likely to be a normal immune response to food exposure.
Additionally, research suggests that food sensitivity tests that rely on genetic testing are not accurate enough for diagnostic use.
In older but official organizational statements, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), and the AAAAI
Food sensitivities and at-home testing kits are continuing subjects of research.
At-home kits for food sensitivity have not been studied extensively enough in up-to-date and reliable journals to prove their accuracy.
This may mean people receive inaccurate results from at-home food sensitivity tests, which may cause health anxiety and lead to unnecessary dietary changes or restrictions.
For example, a false positive result for gluten sensitivity may cause a person to avoid gluten. If they do not replace foods containing gluten, such as bread or pasta, with healthy alternatives, they may be omitting important nutrients from their diet, which can contribute to malnutrition.
It is also possible that a person attributes symptoms to food sensitivity when an undiagnosed condition may be the true cause of perceived symptoms. For example, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease may cause gastrointestinal symptoms similar to food sensitivity.
Seeing a doctor about suspected food sensitivity ensures that a person receives a thorough assessment of their symptoms that may help rule out or identify other potential causes.
Studies have not proven the reliability of at-home food sensitivity tests. A 2018 review states that they should not receive medical endorsement until scientific studies support their use.
People may take an at-home test as a precursor to visiting a healthcare professional. However, they may save time and money by going directly to a professional for diagnosis.
A professional may recommend a person keep a food diary to document foods eaten and symptoms. They can then assess any potential links between symptoms and food exposure.
They may also recommend an elimination diet. This is best performed under the direction of a qualified professional to ensure a person still meets their nutritional requirements, even when avoiding certain foods.
A person should see a doctor if they suspect they have a food allergy or are experiencing severe and ongoing symptoms, as medical attention is necessary.
A person should consult a doctor if they regularly experience:
A doctor might be able to diagnose the problem from a person’s symptoms and medical history. If not, they can order further tests to investigate the cause.
An at-home test is not a replacement for a clinical diagnosis and doctor-recommended treatments.
If people believe they are having allergic reactions to certain foods, they should speak with a doctor. A doctor will conduct tests and look for immune responses to the foods. As people’s allergic reactions can be severe, it is important to test for allergies under the supervision of a doctor or other healthcare professional.
Severe allergic reactions
Anyone experiencing the following symptoms after eating a certain food should seek emergency medical attention:
- difficulty breathing
- tongue swelling
- pale or blue skin
- anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, fast heartbeat, dizziness, fainting)
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and must be immediately treated with epinephrine (adrenaline).
The most common allergy tests involve having a small drop of a potential allergen put onto the skin via a prick or scratch. People can also have blood tests. The ACAAI notes that testing alone is not enough to diagnose an allergy. Doctors must take into account a person’s medical history and physical exams to make a diagnosis.
Scientific research does not back up the use of food sensitivity tests, which typically look for IgG antibodies.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.
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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 indicate that you may have a potential allergy, it’s important to make an appointment with an allergist to ensure accurate interpretation and establish a follow-up plan.
Below are answers to some of the top frequently asked questions about at-home food sensitivity tests.
Does insurance cover at-home food sensitivity tests?
Most insurance companies do not offer financial help for at-home food sensitivity tests.
However, some insurance providers may cover the cost of a food test at a doctor’s office. If a person has insurance, they should contact their insurance provider to check which tests they cover.
Can an at-home food sensitivity test diagnose a food allergy?
Currently, no at-home food sensitivity tests can diagnose food allergies.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology states that at-home food allergy tests may not provide accurate results. It warns against using alternative testing such as IgG testing, home allergy test kits, skin titration, and applied kinesiology.
If a person does take an at-home test, they should follow up on any positive results with a doctor.
Is food sensitivity the same as a food allergy?
Food sensitivities or intolerances are different from food allergies.
Food sensitivities are not life threatening. Moreover, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom explains that sensitivity to specific foods causes bloating, nausea, flatulence, and abdominal pain after a person eats the food.
By contrast, food allergy occurs when the immune system treats certain food as an infection. This causes allergy symptoms, such as wheezing, vomiting, itching, and skin rashes, and it can be life threatening. If someone experiences a food allergy, they should seek immediate medical advice.
What food sensitivity test is most accurate?
The most accurate food sensitivity test is one that a person receives from their doctor. A person should see their doctor about a potential food sensitivity to sure their symptoms and test results receive thorough, professional, and personalized evaluation from a trained healthcare professional.
Are food sensitivity tests reliable?
According to the AAAAI, at-home food sensitivity tests may not provide reliable results.
A person should see a doctor about whether and what food testing may be appropriate for their needs.
Is Everlywell food sensitivity test legit?
Everlywell sells legitimate food sensitivity tests and uses CLIA certified labs to test samples. Although board certified doctors review the test results, these tests are not reliable.
At-home food sensitivity tests are not scientifically proven to pinpoint food sensitivities. A person should not change their diet in line with at-home food sensitivity results without seeking medical advice first, as they may be cutting out food groups that keep their diet balanced.