If you’ve been struggling with gut issues, fatigue, or skin problems, you may have considered getting an at-home food sensitivity test you’ve seen advertised somewhere.
These tests claim to be able to tell you which foods are causing your problems so that you can eliminate them from your diet and feel better.
But are these tests actually reliable and worth the money?
Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities
First, it’s essential to understand the difference between a food allergy, intolerance, and sensitivity.
A food allergy is an immune reaction to a specific food antigen. Symptoms of a food allergy can include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis, and may sometimes be life-threatening. Common food allergies include:
- tree nut
Food intolerance is a non-immune reaction to food that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. This can happen for a few different reasons. For example, some people lack the enzymes to digest lactose, the sugar in milk.
Food sensitivities don’t have a clear clinical definition—it’s not a medical term. Sometimes it’s used as a synonym for food intolerance. Or it may be used to describe any adverse reaction to food generally. Other times it’s used to describe a more vague set of symptoms that might not even be caused by food.
What Do Food Sensitivity Tests Actually Do?
There are a few different types and brands of food sensitivity tests, but most work by having you prick your finger and put a drop of blood on a test strip. Then you send the strip off to their lab, and they measure your immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody response to different foods. They’ll then send you a list of the foods you’re supposedly sensitive to.
But there’s a big problem with this—IgG antibodies don’t actually mean there is a health issue. The presence of antibodies is not an indicator of disease. It’s completely normal and healthy to have IgG antibodies in response to the foods you eat. This leads to false-positive results that indicate what foods you should avoid when those foods may truly be entirely harmless for you.
Even worse—elevated IgG antibodies may indicate tolerance rather than intolerance, meaning these “food sensitivity” test kits may give you results and suggestions that are entirely opposite of their “test labs” claim.
What You Should Do Instead
Talk to your primary care physician if you believe you are experiencing an adverse reaction to some food. Relying on at-home food sensitivity test kits will most likely lead you to false diagnoses, unnecessary and potentially unhealthy restrictions, and decreased quality of life.
Your doctor can perform food allergy tests—and it’s essential to keep in mind that these clinical tests use different methodology and require interpretation by trained professionals. Allergies and intolerances cannot be diagnosed from a single test. They require a comprehensive evaluation that considers your medical history, family history, and symptoms.
This will typically involve keeping a comprehensive food diary, multiple blood tests, skin prick testing, and potentially even an elimination diet or oral food challenge under medical supervision.
If you’re concerned about food sensitivities or allergies, you can best talk to your doctor. At-home food sensitivity test kits are not reliable or trustworthy, and they will lead you to an incorrect understanding of your situation.