What’s the real deal with these tests?
Testing for food sensitivities has become a trend over the past several years and a lot of people with IBS use these tests to identify foods triggering their symptoms. There are all kinds of home testing kits that can be used which will generate a report alerting you of the top foods that might be causing sensitivities in your gut. You may also receive food sensitivity testing through a holistic/naturopathic office.
However, is there reliability to these tests? Are they telling us the truth?
Here’s what you need to know.
The definition of a food allergy vs a food sensitivity/intolerance:
Food allergies are diagnosed by the presence of IgE antibodies in the blood.
These specific antibodies fight off the harmful substance in the body that is causing the allergic reaction. Typically an allergy will present as a breathing or skin reaction and appear minutes after introduction to the allergen.
A food sensitivity or intolerance does not trigger an immune response from the body.
Intolerance or sensitivities can present as digestive issues or other symptoms like headache. Intolerances can be due to a range of problems:
o Lack of or limited enzyme activity (i.e. lactose intolerance)
o Reaction to proteins in foods (i.e. non-celiac gluten sensitivity or histamine sensitivity)
There is limited research on the reliability of food sensitivity tests because IgG antibodies are commonly seen after ingestion of food and do not necessarily mean that someone has food sensitivity.
Therefore taking a food sensitivity test may result in you unnecessarily avoiding healthful foods in your diet.
It can also be expensive to take the tests, as well as follow diet restrictions as a result of the test. There is a growing need for research in regards to food sensitivity testing and hopefully we will have more targeted interventions in the upcoming years to test for specific foods that can trigger IBS symptoms.
Don’t give up hope yet!!
Due to the lack of research, current recommendations do not support use of food sensitivity testing in conjunction with IBS. However, there is a large body of research with strong recommendations in regards to the Low-FODMAP diet.
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and are struggling to figure out what foods to limit and avoid in your diet, please ask your physician for a referral to see a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RD/RDN).
They can help you identify certain foods that might be triggering your symptoms and figure out the best diet plan to follow so you don’t have to unnecessarily avoid healthy foods.
Crowe SE. Food Allergy Vs Food Intolerance in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2019;15(1):38-40.
Gordon CB. Are food sensitivity tests accurate? EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/allergies-and-intolerances/food-intolerances-and-sensitivities/are-food-sensitivity-tests-accurate. Accessed February 23, 2022.
Smith E, Foxx-Orenstein A, Marks LA, Agrwal N. Food sensitivity testing and elimination diets in the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. 2020;120(1):19-23. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2020.008