Person pouring milk on cereal while wondering about food allergy vs. food sensitivity

Food allergy vs. food sensitivity testing from home

Wanting to understand how you react to foods and if you have a sensitivity, or if it may be an allergy? Need to do it from home? Read on.

Let’s start here -- formal food allergy testing should be performed under a physician’s supervision. There is a distinct difference between food sensitivity -- which typically manifests as lower-severity symptoms and digestive problems -- and true allergies which result in significant immune-system responses.

If you believe you’re having allergic reactions to foods you should certainly consult with your healthcare provider. If you’d like to check for food sensitivities as opposed to true allergies, however, there are options for food sensitivity testing that can be performed at home. Let’s explore the difference between the two.

Your options

Food allergy testing

Traditional food allergy testing is typically administered by a physician via injections of small doses of various foods to tissues like skin. The physician will observe the patient for physical reactions that may indicate a true immune response typical of food allergies. These reactions can at times be severe which is why it is so important for this form of testing to be performed by a healthcare provider.

Food sensitivity testing

Food sensitivity testing, on the other hand, works in a completely different manner. Many of us have experienced how some kind of food frequently elicits a certain feeling -- perhaps digestive problems or similar. Some foods cause similar feelings in almost all people. Turkey, for example, is said to make people feel sleepy; coffee makes people feel jittery or awake. These are for the most part normal.

That said, some people may experience regular headaches from certain wines or chocolate. Others may find themselves frequently sick to the stomach after eating certain other foods. It’s common for individuals to have unique, non-allergic reactions to foods and this is what we know as food sensitivity.

Detecting food sensitivities

Food sensitivity can be quite tough to diagnose because of the difficult process of isolating exactly what element of a food is causing the body’s response. Likewise, many side-effects may not be immediately apparent and harder to check for than a true food allergy. Internal inflammation, for example, is not always recognizable immediately after eating the offending food.

Over the last two decades, several types of diagnostic tests have been developed to try to measure these difficult to isolate reactions. The general technique of these tests is taking a small amount of blood, exposing it to various foods, and measuring levels of certain reactive or inflammatory factors. Researchers debate whether there is a best factor to measure, with various evidence supporting the utility of various techniques.

Home based food reactivity testing

For the first time, you can now have food reactivity testing from the comfort of your own home. In addition to other wellness testing, Everlywell offers access to a 96-Food Sensitivity Testing kit. The kit focuses on a common marker of reaction, Immunoglobin G, or IgG. IgG is one of the most common antibodies that the body uses to surround and isolate what your blood considers “foreign”. By measuring the levels of IgG to various foods, foods become classified in several levels from “no reactivity” to “highly reactive.” IgG is unlike IgE, which is the more common antibody in allergic reactions.

Over the years, multiple studies have associated an IgG reaction to foods with various physical symptoms and syndromes, including inflammation, migraine headaches, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

While these tests are not absolute, they can give guidance as to what foods you might consider eliminating reactive foods, in the order of reactivity, to see if that leads to a change in physical symptoms. You can first eliminate highly reactive foods, then moderately reactive, etc.

Everlywell also offers a test for inflammation covering vitamin D and C-reactive protein (CRP). If your inflammation is elevated and you cannot identify an apparent reason, you might consider eliminating reactive foods, in the order of reactivity, to see if this inflammation can be reduced, in consultation and conjunction with your healthcare provider.

By understanding what foods you may react to, you can stop worrying about food and get back to what you should be doing--loving it!

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