What's the value of food sensitivity tests?

Hi Alice! 

First of all I would like to thank you for your work and help. Could you tell me, what is the significance of expensive food sensitivity tests based on IgG values? Most people receive a list of dozens of foods to eliminate from their diets without causing them any problems. I think it can lead to develop eating disorders or nutrient deficiencies. What do you think? Thank you so much for your opinion!

Dear Reader, 

With just the snap of a finger (or well, in this case, a few clicks online) people now have access to thousands of health care products and services; it's truly astonishing! While some newly available direct-to-consumer or over-the-counter products, such as birth control, help to increase access to reliable health care, other products, like the food sensitivity tests you describe aren't exactly all they're cracked up to be. Generally, food sensitivity tests aren’t recommended and if you’re concerned about any challenges you may be experiencing with food, it may be best to reach out to a health care provider. 

To address your questions, it's helpful to understand some key differences between food sensitivities and allergies. A food allergy causes the body to have a serious, and sometimes life-threatening, immune response when certain foods are consumed. Food allergies are revealed clinically through immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody testing. The body produces IgE when foods it considers harmful are ingested. On the other hand, food sensitivities (often used interchangeably with food intolerances) aren’t life-threatening and at most may cause some discomfort while the body attempts to digest the food. Food sensitivities are often vague because there isn't a single way to diagnose one and everyone experiences symptoms differently. 

Expensive food sensitivity tests, as you've mentioned, measure a different type of antibody called immunoglobulin G (IgG). The companies that make these food sensitivity tests suggest that if your test results reveal a high level of IgG, then you likely have a sensitivity or intolerance. If this is the case, it’s then recommended you eliminate the food in question from your diet to improve symptoms. However, as it turns out, IgG antibodies are commonly present in the body after eating and may actually indicate having a tolerance for a specific food. Given the lack of evidence in this area, organizations, such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, don't recommend IgG food sensitivity tests as they may end up being more harmful than helpful. 

Your concerns about possible nutrient deficiencies resulting from the elimination of a food or food group are completely valid. The body could be missing out on an essential nutrient that helps prevent disease. For example, avoiding dairy products because of suspected food sensitivity may increase the risk of vitamin D and calcium deficiency, which may lead to further health complications. Additionally, increased attention to food or food choices because of allergies or suspected food sensitivity is associated with patterns of disordered eating. If you are thinking about eliminating foods, you might consider: what is the physical and mental health impact of eliminating certain foods and nutrients, even in the short term? 

As you reflect, you may find it helpful to discuss your symptoms and concerns with a health care provider who can suggest specific testing. If needed, they can also help oversee any short-term food elimination. With the right consultation, food changes can be supported and monitored safely. 

Dealing with the symptoms of food sensitivity can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but you don't have to navigate such a challenge alone. No matter what path you choose to take, remember you have the power to make an informed decision that aligns with your personal preferences.

Last updated Sep 08, 2023
Originally published Sep 08, 2023