Food Sensitivity Testing… Tested!

We compare three different food sensitivity tests and tell you which one to be wary of.

I like to think I eat pretty healthy about 80% percent of the time. My weekday diet consists of home-cooked veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats. Still, you hear enough about food sensitivities and their all-too-familiar symptoms that I wonder… If there are unidentified blockages affecting my digestion. Could eliminating a few pesky sensitive foods push my metabolism, energy and focus into superdrive?

“70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut, so it makes sense that if you are eating foods that promote inflammation, you will see effects across the body,”  says registered dietitian, Alex Caspero, when I ask her thoughts on food sensitivity testing.

With that endorsement, I reach out to at-home health testing gurus at EverlyWell. And just for good measure, I even compare the results to other popular food allergy and sensitivity testing methods.

Food Sensitivity 101

First, it’s important to understand the difference between food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.

A food allergy triggers an immune system reaction that can be quite severe, or even life-threatening. With an allergy, IgE antibodies bind to mast cells and release histamine into body tissue. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hives, or even difficulty breathing.

A food sensitivity, while still an immune system reaction, will be delayed and less obvious than an allergy. Reactions occur in the blood instead of body tissue and are mediated by IgG and IgM antibodies. Symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, inflammation, skin problems and digestive issues.

By contrast, food intolerances occur in the digestive system – not in the immune system. Intolerance symptoms include bloating, stomach aches and an irritable bowel. They are most often caused by a deficiency in digestive enzymes (as is the case with lactose or alcohol intolerances.)

Three Methods I Tested

1. Scratch Test

First, I visit Alan Khadavi, MD, in Beverly Hills who specializes in Allergy and Asthma care to test for true food allergies. He uses the scratch test by administering small doses of allergens on my arms using a tiny prick. (Not as painful as it sounds; it feels a bit like someone pressing a lego into your arm.) You then wait 15 minutes to see if any of the allergens cause an IgE reaction. I came out of this one in the clear, meaning I had no true allergies to any of the foods we tested. However, this does not test for food intolerances or sensitivities.

2. Applied Kinesiology

If you’ve ever seen an amazing food sensitivity testing deal on Groupon – be warned, it might be this kind. In the test, you hold small vials of different allergens in one hand while your reflexes are tested in the other. If it sounds a little off the wall, that’s because it is. The theory is that if you have a sensitivity to the substance in question, your body’s reflexes are compromised. However, there is no data to support this method.

Still, ever curious, I give it a shot. In my test I come up as having sensitivities to Calcium, B-Complex Vitamins, Fructose, Lactose, Vitamin A, Grains, Yeast, Whisky, Beer and Coffee. I’m curious about eliminating some of these from my diet to see how I feel until the front desk tells me that for $75 a pop, they can heal these sensitivities one by one using a non-invasive massage technique. Something about it reminds me of psychics who sell you crystals to heal your past life so, for now, I pass.

3. The EverlyWell Blood Test

In case you thought at-home testing is just for ancestry, meet EverlyWell. On the contrary, they offer a whole host of useful at-home health & wellness tests including ones for thyroid health, metabolism, Vitamin D deficiencies, inflammation, heavy metals, cholesterol, and of course, food sensitivity. Their test uses a small blood sample to measure IgG reactions.

The test comes with very clear instructions and everything you need to administer a sanitary prick to your finger to collect a blood sample. (If you’re squeamish, rest assured. I was nervous but it was quick and less painful than a papercut.) I mailed my sampling card back in the same box it was delivered in and bam! Results are emailed to me in less than a week’s time.

The Surprising Results

When I log in to view my test results, I immediately see that I have low reactivity for 70 foods, mild reactivity for 23 foods, moderate reactivity to two foods and one food with a very high reactivity. The culprit? Malt!

I’m perplexed by this until I realize that malted grains are used to produce beer and whiskey – aka my go to drinks on a weekend night.

Alex Caspero gives one caveat on IgG testing: “Elevated IgG levels do not necessarily mean that the body is having a negative response to a food; just that the body has been ‘exposed’, whether this exposure is good, bad or otherwise.”

Dr. Marra Francis, EverlyWell’s Medical Director, shares this article on the success of using IgG reactivity to guide elimination diets for health improvement. “An antibody IgG immune response can offer guidance on what foods may be the best to eliminate. Rather than randomly eliminating foods over many months and assessing your change in symptoms, you can have a directed elimination plan.”

So, for now, it looks like I will be choosing vodka, gin or tequila for any weekend imbibing. Cheers, EverlyWell! Thanks for the tip.

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