These Tests Tell You Which Foods to Avoid. Do They Work?

These Tests Tell You Which Foods to Avoid. Do They Work?


Food sensitivity tests are becoming increasingly popular. Here’s what the experts want you to know.

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By Alice Callahan

Food is one of life’s pleasures, but it can also be a source of pain — especially if you’re among the tens of millions of Americans who regularly experience digestive issues like heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhea. When those symptoms strike, you may wonder: Are certain foods to blame?

Food sensitivity tests promise to supply answers. For decades, these tests were offered mainly in providers’ offices in alternative medicine settings. Now, they are increasingly available as at-home tests you can purchase online or on drugstore shelves. Manufacturers claim that with several drops of blood or a few plucked hairs, they can identify the foods that are causing your discomfort. Once eliminated from your diet, you’ll be on the road to relief.

That a simple test could guide dietary changes and improve common, disruptive symptoms is certainly appealing. But do these tests work? We asked some experts and looked into the research to find out.

What is a food sensitivity, anyway?

According to Dr. David Stukus, director of the Food Allergy Treatment Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the term food sensitivity is used more in marketing than in medicine. “There really is no consensus definition of what a food sensitivity is,” he said.

The companies selling these tests typically describe it as what happens when a specific food triggers digestive issues or gut inflammation, causing symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating or headaches. Symptoms may appear hours or even days after eating, and often resolve when the offending food is avoided.

When physicians or dietitians refer to such issues, they’re more likely to use the term food intolerance, Dr. Stukus said (though some may use food sensitivity, too), like with lactose intolerance, which can cause constipation, diarrhea and bloating as a result of difficulty digesting the sugar found in milk. Similarly, people with irritable bowel syndrome may be sensitive to certain kinds of carbohydrates called FODMAPs, and altering their diet may relieve their symptoms.

A food intolerance or sensitivity is different from a food allergy, Dr. Stukus said, which is an immune reaction to certain foods that can cause more severe symptoms like vomiting, hives, shortness of breath or even life-threatening anaphylaxis, usually within minutes of eating even a small amount. There are also more chronic immune reactions to foods, like those from celiac disease, a serious autoimmune condition triggered by gluten.

Is This A Scam?

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