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How Reliable Are Food Sensitivity Tests?

How reliable are food sensitivity tests? Did you get a result that doesn't make sense or are you sensitive to something you've never consumed?  How do you know how to interpret these results and should you really trust the results?  In this article, we look at the reliability of food sensitivity tests, where these tests may be coming up short in some areas, and where they can be helpful. 

If you want to understand the reliability of food sensitivities tests, keep reading. 

Reliability of Food Sensitivity Tests

Food sensitivity test have become more and more popular in the last five years or so.  What we want to look at is the results that you are getting and their reliability.  Can you trust them and what is it actually telling you about what's going on in your body.  Your results will vary from one company to the next but we won't really look at the reliability of different companies.  Instead we want to look at the overall utility of these results.

The reliability will depend on two things: how clean and pure the reagents used are and what the results mean with respect to your immune system and how our immune systems respond different foods.  First let's look at the test in general, what the test measures and how it is performed.

When you do the food sensitivity test, you are testing you bodies response to a certain number of foods.  It might be ninety six or two hundred and nine different foods.  The way that they perform the test is to fill wells with reagent and mix it with your blood.  The wells are small little circular depressions on a plastic tray. These are coated with the reagent.  The reagents are the individual foods that are being tested.  So they coat all of those individual wells with these reagents.  Then they take the serum from your blood and they put the serum in the coated plates.  Then they incubate the whole tray for a period of time while jostling them around to ensure everything's mixed together.  After the incubation period, the amount of binding of the blood antibodies to the reagent in the wells is quantified.  The more binding of your blood immunoglobulins to the food proteins, the more positive.  The more positive the more sensitive you are considered to be for that particular well.  The question with the reliability comes in if the reagents that are being used are not really clean.  When this occurs, they may produce false positives. 


For instance,  let's say you're being tested for almonds but there's a little bit of peanuts in the reagent.  You may be sensitive to peanuts but now that's going to show positive sensitivity for almonds as well.  Basically this brings up the idea of more false positives when the reagents are not clean.  So make sure the company that you use has good reagents and good quality controls.  As long as the company you are using has good reagents and good quality controls, they should be producing reliable results.  Other problems can also occur too. False positives are a common thing with food sensitivity tests.  So you shouldn't always take the results as one hundred percent accurate.  Even the best company with the best intentions, may still trigger false positives.  If you do get a result that looks really weird, you may ask the company to redo it or get an opinion from a doctor.

Sometimes people that results where almost everything is positive, for instance.  This may be an indicator that the company isn't using a clean reagent as well.  However this can also happen when people have a lot of up-regulated immune activity. In this case it has nothing to do with the reagents and more to do with your immune system.  When you do this test look out for false positives and that could have to do with the reagents or other problems with the overall logic of the test.  So how is your immune system is actually involved with this and what does this means for the reliability of the tests and what's going on in your body.  


Food Sensitivity Tests And Your Immune System

What do the test result mean for your immune system and how does that translate into health issues.?  Many immunologists and allergists suggest that food sensitivities or IgG antibodies in your blood correspond to immune tolerance and are not necessarily a problem.  You can check out this article for more on that.  What they are saying, is that the presence of IgG antibodies isn not really an issue.   They believe you shouldn't really worry about it as it represents immune tolerance.  When you have immune tolerance, it means your immune system isn't really reacting to it the way that it would to an IgE antibody.  IgE antibodies represent a frank allergy. 

Similarly when you get sick with a virus, initially you develop antibodies to that virus.  During the course of the sickness when you are first exposed to that virus, your immune system is going to create immunoglobulins to the virus.  The presence of these antibodies allow your body to have memory of that virus later.  When you get infected a second time you are not really going to feel sick.  This is because the immunoglobulin is going to attack that virus much quicker. This allows your body to isolate it and contain the virus and therefore not need as much immune activity.  Most of the sickness and symptoms that we feel is a result of the immune stimulation and activity.  It is trying to fight the infection.  So how does this related to tolerance with food sensitivity?  

These allergists and immunologists referring to immune tolerance mean that your immune system has seen this food and now recognized it as part of normal background noise.  The immune system doesn't really have to worry about it very much.  This is what many allergist and immunologists believe (regarding IgG immunoglobulins to foods).  These IgG food antibodies reflect immune tolerance because there was a past acute reaction and now there is no acute concern to worry about.  There probably is some validity to the point that IgG represents immune tolerance.  However, clinically there does seem to be some results or improvement in people that look at food sensitivity tests and eliminate those foods.   They do actually get better.  What is actually going on here and how can we explain both?  Both can't be true so maybe there is a little more nuance to look at. 

It turns out as you look closer at these different IgG antibodies, there are actually different subclasses within the category of IgG antibodies.  Some of the subclasses can cause mast cells to degranulate.  Within those granules is histamine.  When they degranulate that means they open up and the granules inside spill out into the blood and the surrounding tissues.  Those granules containing histamine creates inflammation and damage.  Histamine is an immunological stimulant and the release of histamine from certain subclasses of IgG have been observed in test tubes.  There is also the clinical observation that running these tests and eliminating the foods help people feel better.  It does make sense that identification and elimination of foods that trigger more IgG antibodies to be produced may be helpful. Some of the  companies that do food sensitivity testing actually testing specifically this subclasses of IgG that cause this degranulation.  These are going to be the better companies to use.  Others use a mix of all the IgG antibodies. 

The major issue that I see with food sensitivity test is that many times people are not discriminating between the fact that they could be getting some false positives.  Additionally, some people may already have an unregulated immune system and inflammation in their gut.  This will make them have even more false positives.  

Another issue with the food sensitivity test is that sometimes the results are given with no direction as to what you should do.  As a result, some people get really concerned that they're eating things that's bad for them.  This concern may be warranted but it can create problems too.  What should be done with your results is an elimination and challenge for each one of the foods identified on your food sensitivity test.   The challenge will tell you if you are indeed sensitive to it.  When you take the food again you'll be able to determine what health symptom or problem is triggered.  There is a very specific way to go about the elimination and challenge.  I am not going to go into it here but this is the the gold standard. 

Anther problem is for those with an already restrictive diet.  If you already have a very restrictive diet then you get this list of foods to avoid, it may be too restrictive.  If no one's giving you a direction you may just avoid them and never eat them again.  Now you have even more restrictive diets leaving the amount of foods you can eat as very limited.  This is not really good for overall health as it can create gaps in your overall nutrition.  It can also lead to deterioration of your microbiome.  This is not to say that no one should ever do food sensitivity testing.  It can be a very helpful test. It is just that the interpretation and utility should be given proper weight among all of the possible tests and solutions that you have in your arsenal and all the options you have available to you.  I do think food sensitivity tests are reliable and helpful.   We should use them in people that are having a lot of food reactions that we can't identify what's triggering them.  We should just be careful with interpreting the results and also careful in the types of people that we use this test on.  If you already have a lot of inflammation going on in your gut, you may want to calm that down or at least try to before you go do this test.

That should give you a better understanding of the reliability of food sensitivity tests.  If you have questions about your food sensitivity test, please ask it in the comment section below.

If you want a customized plan on food sensitivities or gut healthy, click in the link below to get started. 

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