Are At-Home Food Sensitivity Tests Effective?   

Are At-Home Food Sensitivity Tests Effective?

chalk drawing of intestines with food around it
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Kunal Gupta, M.D.

Are you concerned that you have a sensitivity to certain foods? At-home tests sound useful, but they don’t always provide helpful information.

People with negative reactions to foods may have food allergies or intolerances, not sensitivities. (Doctors don’t use the term “food sensitivity,” but some people describe intolerances that way.) 

At-home food sensitivity tests cost $150 or more, and they aren’t covered by insurance. Inaccurate results may cause you to unnecessarily avoid eating certain foods, limiting your diet.

“Many at-home food sensitivity tests claim to check a person’s sensitivity to nearly 100 foods at once,” says Kunal Gupta, M.D., gastroenterologist affiliated with Hackensack Meridian Bayshore Medical Center. “But research has not shown that the tests are valid.”

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends against these tests, which aren’t scientifically proven.

Food allergy versus food intolerance

What’s the difference between food allergies and intolerances, which may be called sensitivities?

“Food allergies impact the immune system, but food intolerances or sensitivities affect the digestive system,” says Dr. Gupta.

Food allergies may cause an immediate reaction when someone eats the offending food. Some food allergies are life-threatening.

Food allergy symptoms include:

  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Throat tightness
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen tongue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Skin that turns pale or blue
  • Weakened pulse
  • Anaphylactic shock

Food intolerances or sensitivities may not arise when someone eats the questionable food. Instead, bothersome symptoms may appear hours later.

Food intolerance/sensitivity symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Gassiness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Feeling unwell

How doctors diagnose food allergy and food intolerance

If you react negatively to food, your doctor will see if it’s an allergy or intolerance. They’ll ask what you ate, how much and when you noticed symptoms.

When doctors suspect a food allergy, they may offer:

  • A blood test
  • A skin prick test
  • An elimination diet, in some cases

When you have an allergy, your immune system produces immunoglobulin E (IgE), causing an allergic reaction. Blood and skin prick tests look for IgE antibodies to foods that commonly cause allergies.

There aren’t reliable tests to check for food intolerances, aside from lactose and glucose. 

When doctors suspect a food intolerance, they may:

  • Offer lactose or gluten intolerance tests, if applicable 
  • Ask you to keep a food diary, including your symptoms
  • Ask you to try an elimination diet

With your doctor’s help, you can learn whether to avoid certain foods due to allergies or intolerances. You may be surprised to learn that a suspected food isn’t the cause of your symptoms.

Why at-home tests aren’t helpful

Many popular at-home food sensitivity tests look for the presence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. But research has not proven that the presence of IgG is a sign of a food intolerance.

The immune system makes IgG antibodies, but a food insensitivity isn’t an immune system reaction. The presence of IgG isn’t helpful in determining whether a food causes digestive problems.

“Instead of hoping that at-home IgG tests are accurate, save your money and see a doctor,” says Dr. Gupta. “You should get definitive answers.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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