Food Sensitivity Testing- Is it Worth it?

Food Sensitivity Testing- Is it Worth it?

In the recent years, food sensitivity and/or long-term (delayed food allergy response testing) has become all the rage. Draw a tube of blood or get a finger prick done and get pages and pages of foods back you never knew you were sensitive to, varying depending on what company you use. While for individuals suffering from GI/stomach discomfort or unexplained symptoms of fatigue/skin irritation/etc, these tests may provide a start toward narrowing down some answers, but are they actually accurate and do they end up causing more stress than relief? While I have personally as well as some friends of mine have experimented with these food sensitivity tests (from multiple companies using different indicators to determine the sensitivities) I would like to discuss the pros and cons as well as general cautions to consider before jumping into trying one of these tests you’ve just seen advertised online or on tv.

The Pros

If you have been experiencing GI discomforts or unexplainable symptoms of fatigue/skin irritation/etc. and have exhausted all the other possible diagnosis options without any conclusive results:

1.       These tests can provide a starting point to help guide an elimination of possibly bothersome foods. A guided plan of reintroduction testing should be used either provided by the company or with the help of a practitioner such as a Registered Dietitian.

2.       These tests can provide a potential opportunity for eliminating symptoms without the use of medication through eliminating bothersome foods.

The Cons:

1.       These tests tend to overproduce results. When doing these tests, advertised to test for hundreds of possible sensitivities, many people end up with results of 20-30+ foods they must eliminate. Many times the majority of these foods your body is able to tolerate, but the tests provided a false positive.

2.       These tests sometimes miss the worst triggers (sensitivities or allergic responses) based on the frequency of exposure of that specific food, e.g. if you never actually consume it or if you consume it frequently depending on the test.

3.       These tests can turn your day to day eating life upside down. By determining you have so many sensitivities/allergies, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t eat out and everything you buy at the store is free of one sensitivity food but has another.

4.       Can create increased stress around food which can increase overall inflammatory and GI symptoms and create false reactions (eg feeling like you are still having symptoms from food but really just reacting to stress)

5.       Can be used as an excuse for or can trigger the start of eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors. By having a variety of sensitivities show up, it can create obsessive behaviors around ingredients and overall food choices, developing fears of eating many foods, or if an individual already struggles with eating disorder behaviors it can support their mindset of restricting food or staying away from fear foods.

6.       Can promote placebo effect. Individuals may start to feel better because they have convinced themselves they have found the solution rather than because of an actual effect from food elimination. When reintroducing foods, individuals may convince themselves that the specific food is an issue causing a reaction that may not have otherwise occurred.

7.       They are expensive!! These tests can cost a lot of money to provide you with not the best supported results and, depending on the company may be a scam. I highly recommend avoiding these tests unless it is absolutely necessary, and even then, making sure to work with a trusted provider to help you choose the best test option.

The Cautions:

1.       If you decide to use these tests try to find a company that has at least some quality research backing up the testing method they use.

2.       Many individuals, for fear of reactions do not reintroduce foods that were initially eliminated. A crucial part of these tests is a well-organized reintroduction plan is a key part of getting the best results out of these tests and only eliminating foods that truly do cause a problem.

3.       Work with a practitioner such as a registered dietitian to help guide your reintroduction of foods. If too many foods are reintroduced together or too close together it may result in elimination of foods that aren’t an issue or a lack of knowing which food actually caused the problem.

4.       There is a difference between food allergies and sensitivities. Sensitivities manifest with GI symptoms or discomfort eg bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, gas, etc. and tend to have less of an effect on the body as a whole. Many times, depending on the severity of the GI symptoms, these foods can be consumed in small amounts without a detrimental effect on the body. Food allergies, on the other hand, are an immune system reaction that occurs after eating a certain food and can be as minimal as skin itching to as severe as a swelling/closing of airways, significant gut inflammation, hives, etc. Note food allergies can result in gut symptoms as well so working with an allergist and/or a GI doctor is a good way to determine the difference. Food allergies can have a damaging effect on the body and these foods should be avoided completely. There are also long term/delayed allergic response food allergies that have a delayed effect on the body, while still causing detrimental effects on the body such as fatigue, aching, delayed itching, GI inflammation, etc. These should also be reviewed with an allergist/GI doctor/Registered Dietitian. Be aware when choosing one of these tests whether it is testing for food sensitivities or allergies and work with a trusted practitioner to analyze results.

 

GI discomforts and unexplainable symptoms of fatigue, skin irritation, and other overall body symptoms can be frustrating and uncomfortable and something you will do almost anything to resolve. This being said, when making the decision to utilize a food sensitivity or long term allergic response tests please take these pros, cons, and cautions into consideration before jumping in blind to whatever test sounds appealing by their advertising.

 

What experiences have you experienced with these tests?  Successes? Frustrations? I’d love to hear your experience or any feedback/questions you have on the points discussed above!