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Wellness

Do At-Home Food Sensitivity Tests Work?

6 Mins read

If you’ve been experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that could be due to food sensitivity, it may be time to try an at-home food sensitivity test. Perhaps you’ve had a suspicion that your body responds negatively to certain foods for many years, but you haven’t been able to pinpoint the problem. Or, perhaps you feel as though you’ve been doing everything right when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, but you still often feel fatigued, gassy, or bloated.

Food sensitivities are a common factor when it comes to suboptimal health. They are different from food allergies, where individuals usually are presented with immediate and serious reactions to a certain type of food. Instead, when you suffer from food sensitivities, a different immune response is triggered. The reaction can be milder, more insidious, and cause symptoms such as brain fog, bloating, or abdominal pain. 

More and more awareness is being raised about food sensitivities. At-home food sensitivity tests have been increasing in popularity for this reason, but do they actually work? Let’s look at what evidence these food sensitivity tests have behind them. First, let’s discuss what food sensitivities are.

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What Exactly are Food Sensitivities? 

Food sensitivities may not be as serious as food allergies, but they can still impact your health and wellness. A food allergy is a serious immune response against a specific food allergen, which usually involves IgE antibodies. Approximately 1-2% of adults suffer from food allergies.

Food sensitivities and food intolerances are much more common, affecting up to 20% of adults. The negative reactions from unknowingly consuming food you’re sensitive to can impact how you feel on a day-to-day basis.

When it comes to food allergies, your immune system produces antibodies against problematic food. Perhaps it was confused by a food protein resembling a harmful invader and triggers an immune response. These can be acutely severe, IgE antibody-based allergic reactions. 

Food intolerances don’t involve antibody production. Lactose intolerance is a common food sensitivity, for example. In lactose intolerance and FODMAP (a group of poorly digested carbohydrates) intolerance, irritation, and bacterial fermentation lead to symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea. 

Gluten and histamine sensitivities typically involve an innate immune response, which causes a more generalized form of inflammation.  Some can be sensitive to food additives, such as polysorbate-80, causing inflammation by disrupting the intestinal barrier. When this happens, undigested food, intestinal bacteria, and the toxins many produce can enter the bloodstream and further worsen inflammation. As the immune system is exposed to proteins in places they shouldn’t be, prolonged barrier disruption may even lead to allergies.

Now, let’s discuss at-home food sensitivity tests.

Types Of At-Home Food Sensitivity Tests

You don’t necessarily have to visit a doctor or naturopath to find out about your food sensitivities. At-home food sensitivity tests are available now. These at-home food sensitivity tests generally fall into three categories: fingerprick blood tests, elimination diet workbooks, or breath tests. 

1. Fingerprick Blood Tests: IgG Antibody Tests

There has been an increasing availability of at-home fingerprick tests in recent years. Many will offer several dozen (sometimes over 100) allergy panels across all food groups. With just one drop of your blood, these food sensitivity tests claim to cover almost every possible problematic food, and may even provide personalized or group support from a participating healthcare professional. 

Cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, and brewer’s yeast are some of the most common foods that show up on an IgG test. Cola nut was the most widespread intolerance in a Saudi study, which is often used to flavor drinks. 

However, these fingerprick tests are often based on IgG antibodies. Unlike IgE antibodies, these can produce delayed and more varied responses. You know if you have an IgE-mediated allergy because its most recognizable symptom is anaphylaxis. 

Studies on IgG-mediated food sensitivities show mixed results, but relationships between food sensitivities and poor health have been found across a wide range of health problems.

IBS-related symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and gas are linked to IgG-based intolerance, alongside allergy-associated symptoms including asthma, itching, and rashes. They can even cause neurological issues such as migraines, along with atherosclerosis, hair loss, and chronic fatigue. Fortunately, removing the offending foods from patients’ diets has also been found to improve their symptoms. 

It is not too late to modify your diet and start feeling better, even if you’ve been suffering from an unknown food sensitivity for years. 

It’s interesting to note that many of these consequences of IgG-mediated food intolerance are  “invisible” illnesses, including IBS and fatigue. They are often dismissed by your peers as being “all in your head”, and you may even be told that you don’t look sick, which is a particularly persistent problem for women. In fact, women are at a higher risk of IgG-mediated food intolerance, because female sex hormones can be pro-inflammatory when it comes to allergies. 

IgG antibody testing from home could be the right move for you if you suspect food sensitivities, but have no idea what the problematic food might be. Perhaps you often feel sick, even though you eat healthily and exercise, but you have no idea where to begin when it comes to estimating where the issue lies. When you’re not sure where to begin, this is the type of food sensitivity test that could work for you.

2. Elimination Diets

Another way to test for food sensitivities from home is by following an elimination diet. Certain research has not shown clear reliability of IgG blood tests for food intolerances, such as this case series of four patients. However, it did reveal a possible link between filaggrin gene mutations and food intolerance. Filaggrin influences the integrity of tissue barriers, including skin (as seen in eczema) and the intestinal wall. This can lead to undigested food crossing the intestinal barrier, leading to more food sensitivities. For this reason, many health professionals advise an elimination diet, followed by re-challenging with a small amount of the problem food to determine whether there is a reaction. 

An elimination diet may be best if you have narrowed down your list of potential food sensitivities to no more than five foods. Elimination diets do not necessarily cost anything, but they can be excessively restrictive to follow. It’s typically not easy to follow an elimination diet. 

3. Breath Tests

Food sensitivities that impair your ability to digest certain foods can be detected or measured by a breath test. These at-home tests measure hydrogen and other gases produced during fermentation, which contribute to the bloating, flatulence, and pain of food intolerance. Some at-home breath tests require regular use, to track your diet over time and how your symptoms may be improving.

Breath tests are best suited for you if you have IBS or similar digestive complaints such as frequent gas and bloating. 

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What Else Can We Find Out About Ourselves From a Blood Test?

As I covered in a previous article, a blood test can provide insight into your true state of health. Estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA influence a range of factors from your sex drive to bone health, while homocysteine contributes to the brain inflammation seen in many mental illnesses. Nutritional parameters, including vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, can be measured too. 

Also available as a regular blood test is the leucocyte activation (ALCAT) test. This is another type of food intolerance testing that measures your innate, non-specific immune response instead of focusing on antibodies. 

Do DNA Tests Help Uncover Food Sensitivities? 

Many food sensitivities are influenced by our genes, so a CircleDNA test may help you determine whether or not you have a genetic likelihood to be sensitive to certain foods. Many people are genetically more likely to be lactose intolerant, for example. Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance are two other measures under your diet reports from CircleDNA. Furthermore, CircleDNA reveals how likely you are to suffer negative effects from alcohol, caffeine, fats, carbohydrates, and salt intake.

However, you should not rely on DNA testing alone, as your environment’s influence on gene expression holds significant sway over food sensitivities. Although my own CircleDNA test did not indicate any increased risk of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, I have a gluten sensitivity that sometimes manifests as neurological symptoms. My fatigue, anxiety, and poor muscle control started to dissipate when I quit eating gluten, and these symptoms would reappear whenever I tried eating it again. An elimination diet often served as a helpful tool for me discovering this food sensitivity, and a blood test would be even more accurate. 

At-home food sensitivity tests can be a helpful tool in finding out if the root causes of your health and wellness issues are food sensitivities. However, the key is finding the right test for you. Antibody and ALCAT testing fit best for those with chronic symptoms and clear causes. Breath testing is best for symptoms of poor digestion, while an elimination diet can help when you already have a shortlist of potential intolerances to further narrow down. And of course, a DNA test reveals your underlying predisposition to certain immune and digestive health conditions.

Alexandra Preston
27 posts

About author
Alexandra Preston is a Naturopath from the Gold Coast. She’s always been passionate about health and science, but as she was growing up, Alexandra noticed the common result of solely relying on conventional symptomatic relief. She could see that many were stuck in an endless loop or downward spiral, and soon learnt of the power of holistic modalities. Now, her path in life is to help others on their journey to optimal health. In 2019, Alexandra Preston published her book Infla-Menses, available through Lulu and Amazon.
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