How to test for food allergies and sensitivities is a really common question. And rightly so - food issues affect our entire body and can cause some really significant discomfort.
There are a few things you need to have settled in your mind before you start hunting out testing:
- The first is to ask yourself what question do you want answered? Determine your priority questions and then look for a test that will help you answer that question. Remember, not all tests answer the same question. It's worth it to stop and learn a bit about the different tests and how they can help you along your journey before investing time and money.
- The second is are you willing to make changes based on the test result? This is a concept that doctors use all the time - if a test result won't change how you're treating something, don't do the test! And there can be a lot to consider with food allergy and sensitivity testing - the impact on your diet, your family, your daily routine, etc. Most of us likely just want to feel better, but keep in mind that having test results isn't the end of the journey. In fact, they frequently raise more questions than you may have wanted…
Tests for food allergies, sensitivities, intolerance and reactivities are all looking for a different puzzle piece. This goes back to the physiological mechanism causing your symptoms - if it's an allergy we look to IgE testing and if it's an intolerance we may look to genetic markers and inflammatory markers. If you want a little more on some different reaction mechanisms, I wrote about them here.
OK...the tests! Let's talk through a few different kinds of tests that look for different kinds of reactions to the foods we eat. (Definitely not a comprehensive list, especially if you are interested in alternative and complementary approaches to health.)
IgE testing is the typical kind of testing your physician will order. These could be skin prick tests or a blood draw. Either way, they are looking for a reaction caused by the protein IgE when your body/blood is exposed to a possible allergen. These are the most well-studied and accepted tests for food allergies. And that is what you are testing for - food allergies. In many situations, food allergies do not change over time and allergy test results tend to be more consistent. This test will not tell you about intolerances or sensitivities.
Food sensitivities are hard because of the multiple different potential causes and triggers. IgG tests are typically used for these kinds of food reactions. These are blood spot (prick your finger at home) or blood draw tests. There is a lot of controversy about these tests within the medical community; is an increase in IgG really an indication of a sensitivity or is it simply a normal reaction to be expected? The biggest thing to understand about IgG testing is that it is going to change over time. If you get tested, remove the reactive foods from your diet for 3-6 months and then retest, the results will very likely be different. And therein lies another challenge with these tests - the results present a moving target. These are most likely used by alternative and holistic providers or you can order a direct-to-patient test kit.
While these two are the most commonly used tests for food allergies and sensitivities, they are certainly not the only tools in this toolbox!
Another option is the MRT test which is a blood test that looks for any kind of reactivity to foods, regardless of the cause. This one is pretty well studied and the really nice component is a food plan and access to trained nutritionists to help you figure out what to do with the results once you have them in hand. This one will require an order through a healthcare provider or nutritionist.
And there is my favorite way to approach food sensitivities and allergies: nutrigenomics and genetic testing. This isn't one that you'll hear much about, yet, but I do believe it is the next really powerful thing in managing food sensitivities - and that's why I use it in my clinic, in private coaching and with my own allergies and sensitivities. It is a holistic approach and it all starts with genetic testing.
It's not a test that will give you a diagnosis or tell you that you may end up with a kind of cancer; this testing simply gives us insight into how your body is uniquely programmed for processing all of the stuff we eat, drink, breathe and otherwise absorb. It does not tell you what you are allergic to...but by looking at your genetics, we can identify your susceptibilities and develop a plan using foods/supplements, stress management, sleep, and techniques to manage environmental exposures. This approach complements IgE allergy testing very nicely - you learn the stuff that causes big issues (IgE) and then also how to support your body in the best way for you as an individual (genetics)!
Again, the kind of test always goes back to the question you want answered. If you want to know what foods are causing allergic reactions, IgE testing will give you that answer. If you want to know other foods that you may be reactive to, IgG or MRT testing will help you through this crazy maze. And if the puzzle just doesn't make sense regardless of the testing you do, consider doing the genetic testing to learn more about your body and how it works on a molecular level - and all of the things you can do to take back your health and get rid of those food reactions!
Interested in more information about genetic testing and food sensitivities? I'd be happy to tell you more! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can schedule a free thirty-minute convo.
Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip...
For this week's tip, spend a little time considering your answer to the questions posed above:
- What questions do you want answered by testing?
- Are you willing to make changes to your diet and daily routine based on test results?
When you have your answers sketched out a bit - don't worry about having a solid answer - it's time to talk with a provider or coach to see about next steps!
And if you know the stuff you need to avoid but are having a hard time figuring out where it hides in your favorite foods, download a free copy of my Quick Guide to Reading Labels for Food Sensitivities.