The Best Food Sensitivity Test- 2020
Do you tend to feel worse instead of energized after you eat? Does the feeling of fatigue, stomach upset, or excess mucus in your nose or throat suddenly plague your body after a meal? How about chronic coughing, post-nasal drip, or stiff joints?
Yep, you guessed it, these are all common symptoms of a food sensitivity.
Do you ever feel as though you struggle to find the common denominator in this equation? For example, perhaps you feel great after certain meals and absolutely terrible after others. Or, to add even more confusion to the story, maybe you feel well after eating a certain meal and when you sit down to enjoy that exact same meal the next day, you start to experience symptoms.
If this sounds like you, and you’ve already attempted an elimination diet, it might be time to consider food sensitivity testing.
In today’s article, we will review the best food sensitivity tests and why you should consider this route in order to alleviate chronic health issues.
What is Food Sensitivity Testing?
Food sensitivity testing is the best way to measure your body’s immune response to a variety of individual foods, chemicals, and additives. The best food sensitivity test will measure mediator release as all food-induced inflammatory reactions involve mediator release. Mediator release is responsible for the nagging symptoms you are experiencing each day.
When Should I Consider Testing?
Food sensitivity testing is most beneficial when an individual is suffering from chronic health symptoms that don’t seem to go away no matter how many diet and lifestyle changes are made. Food sensitivity testing helps to provide an accurate and concise answer to the famous question of “why won’t my ________ disappear?”
Headaches, joint pain, stomach issues….you fill in the blank.
How Does a Food Sensitivity Affect Me?
A food sensitivity is an adverse reaction to a specific food or food component. Food sensitivities involve the immune system. Common symptoms include but are not limited to fatigue, gastrointestinal disturbance, headaches, joint pain, swelling, changes in mood/cognition, and sinus drainage or congestion.
Some individuals live their entire life unknowingly suffering from food sensitivities. This is because symptoms can be delayed 2-4 days after consumption, thus making it very difficult to pinpoint the culprit.
If you would like to learn more about food sensitivities, check out our related post discussing everything you need to know about food sensitivity symptoms and testing.
Who Should Consider Food Sensitivity Testing?
The best candidate for a food sensitivity test is someone who has been experiencing symptoms consistently for more than two to three weeks and believes these symptoms to be related to dietary intake.
If you have :
- Already attempted to STRICTLY remove the suspected food culprit for a minimum of two weeks and have yet to experience relief, OR
- You have tried to keep track in a food journal but still can’t quite put your finger on the food(s) that is causing you problems, then it is time to look into testing.
More importantly, if you are experiencing chronic health symptoms AND you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition(s), or you have a family history of autoimmune disease (i.e., Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, etc.), you are even more susceptible to adverse food reactions and would benefit the most from food sensitivity testing.
Please do not be discouraged if you attempt a strict elimination diet (or several elimination diets for that matter) and you just can’t achieve a status of relief. It is extremely common for an individual to be reacting to a specific chemical or component in various foods such as fructose, tyramine, solanine, lecithin, MSG, etc. vs. the food itself.
For example, you may start to keep a food journal and notice that you feel poorly after eating berries, cinnamon oatmeal, beer and an ice cream sundae with cherries on top. Weird combo, right? At that point, you might think “Wow, I am reacting to every single food that I eat!! What is going on!?” When in all actuality, it could be that you were merely reacting to benzoic acid, a food additive found in foods and spices such as berries, cinnamon, beer, and maraschino cherries. Benzoic acid is commonly used as a preservative. The right food sensitivity test would help you to determine such an issue.
Lastly, it’s important to understand that you could be reacting to a naturally occurring compound in foods. In other words, you could be eating a completely fresh, whole-food diet and still have an adverse food reaction.
Take for example the compound known as potassium nitrate. It is naturally occurring in high amounts in foods such as beets, spinach, eggplant, collards, turnip greens, and celery- some of the healthiest foods on the planet! Can you imagine the frustration of someone working so hard to eat a rainbow or get their greens in each day, yet they still feel junky after every meal?!
Hopefully now you are starting to see why food sensitivity testing can be beneficial.
Why Am I At a Greater Risk for Food Sensitivities If I Have an Autoimmune Condition?
A huge thank you to the young woman in my office recently who asked this question because it is so important to understand the “why” behind it all. This concept is especially important to know when it comes to long term compliance of possibly avoiding some of the foods you have eaten your entire life.
And now for my attempt to package this complicated novel of an answer to a few comprehendible paragraphs.
Years ago, the famous researcher, Dr. Alessio Fasano discovered that to be diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in the first place, one had to be already living with what we refer to as “leaky gut.” The proper medical term is intestinal permeability, but “leaky gut” is more commonly recognized, especially if you are someone who likes to Google your strange symptoms until 2 am frantically.
In order for someone to be diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, this person must have the “trifecta” as I call it :
- Genetics (you have to have the gene).
- Environment (you have to have something that pulls that trigger on your genes such as stress or environmental toxins).
- “Leaky gut” (the intestines have gone through so much turmoil, microscopic holes have formed, allowing food and toxins to pass through a barrier that was once sealed).
What Exactly is “Leaky Gut” or Intestinal Permeability?
“Leaky gut” is synonymous with increased intestinal permeability. When you are healthy, the walls of your gut act as a big barrier, only allowing “safe” substances such as water and specific nutrients to pass through to the bloodstream.
The little guardians inside the gut wall are known as tight junctions. When the tight junctions become loose, (poor diet, stress, medications, extreme exercise, and environmental toxins can all contribute to this), large particles of food, toxins, bacteria, etc. are now able to pass through to the bloodstream as well as to your organs.
The result? Nagging symptoms which ultimately can lead to chronic health conditions if left unaddressed. These symptoms are a sign that your body is trying to fight the “foreign” particles that have entered the bloodstream.
Food sensitivity testing can help you to determine what specific foods or component of foods are lighting your immune system on fire.
So, Then, What is the Best Food Sensitivity Test?
It’s amazing how many different food sensitivity tests are on the market today. While there are quite a few reputable companies out there, most are a waste of your time and money.
So, which food sensitivity testing company should you choose and why?
Let’s take a look at the most popular food sensitivity tests to determine the best approach for you. Please note, these are not the only food sensitivity tests available to the public, but they are the ones most commonly ordered.
For those of you who know me, you know I like to shoot it straight. I am going to start by discussing what I consider to be the gold standard for food sensitivity testing: Oxford Biomedical Technologies MRT (Mediator Release Test).
MEDIATOR RELEASE TEST (MRT) + ASSOCIATED LEAP (LIFESTYLE EATING AND PERFORMANCE) NUTRITION PLAN
MRT is a blood test known for its ability to detect food sensitivities. MRT uses two forms of advanced technology, flow cytometry and proprietary impedance technology, to measure the solid-to-liquid ratio in your blood.
Essentially, a sample of your blood is taken and exposed to various food substances. Depending on how your cells react to each substance tells us the degree of sensitivity you have to that particular item.
The more your cells decrease in size, the greater your sensitivity.
Imagine this, when your body is in a state of low inflammation, your white blood cells (solid balls) are floating around peacefully in your bloodstream (liquid). Each white blood cell contains a load of mediators.
During this state, the solid to liquid ratio is stable.
Suddenly, your body is exposed to a food particle (antigen) that your immune system does not like, and mediators are released out of the cells to extinguish that fire.
The more your body does not like that food particle, the more mediators are released to combat the inflammatory reaction. The more mediators that release from the cell, smaller the cell becomes in size. A smaller cell size means a greater change in solid to liquid ratio.
The release of mediators is what cause you to experience fatigue, headaches, joint pain – you fill in the blank.
In a healthy individual, a small release of mediators (small ratio change) is standard and occurs all the time.
A drastic change in ratio, or severe inflammatory reaction, suggests a more significant sensitivity to that food or chemical. This single degree of change is displayed on your MRT test results (See below).
Now that you know the science behind the process, here is a quick summary of why Oxford’s MRT is superior:
- You serve as your own control for the test. You are not compared to what might be “normal” for other populations. Your results are based on your unique immune response.
- You can see the magnitude of each reaction. In other words, you can see which foods are “safe” for your unique immune system, not just the foods that are causing inflammation within your body.
- MRT tests for 29 different food chemicals IN ADDITION to 141 different foods.
- MRT can detect mediator release caused by type III and IV hypersensitivity pathways. (This is very important. Check out our previous post explaining food sensitivity and testing to learn more.)
- Oxford trains qualified healthcare practitioners to become Certified LEAP (Lifestyle Eating and Performance) Therapists (CLTs). This means you have access to highly trained dietitians for proper result interpretation.
- CLTs can help design individual protocols, meal plans and recipes for you based on your specific test results. This is truly the only way to experience long term relief.
Please stay tuned for my next article where we will dive a bit deeper into the LEAP protocol and food plan.
How Can I Order The Best Food Sensitivity Test?
The testing process is simple. You can work with a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT) or contact Oxford Biomedical directly and have a test kit sent to your home. They will also help you to find a phlebotomist.
Once your blood is drawn, it is shipped immediately overnight and your results will be back in approximately 2 weeks. A CLT will help you to properly interpret your results.
Again, there is no such thing as a perfect, 100% accurate food sensitivity test.
However, MRT has proven itself to be the most effective. In fact, I have witnessed so much success as a result of the MRT approach that I decided to become a Certified LEAP Therapist (CLT) in 2015.
Now, you might be saying, “Wait a second! I read that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said that this test was invalid and inaccurate when testing for food allergies!”
And yes, you are precisely correct! MRT is not a test for food allergies. It is a test for food sensitivities. There is a significant difference. Please check out one of my more recent articles explaining the difference.
Or perhaps you are saying, “Well, is this evidence-based?” To that I say, what does it mean to be evidence-based?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, (formerly ADA), To be an evidence-based dietitian, you must use the best available evidence, the results of peer-reviewed scientific studies, when possible, and, when science is lacking, you must use your expert opinion and experience (3,4).
A great dietitian or highly skilled healthcare practitioner does not see the world in black and white. He or she uses clinical experience, clinical judgment, and reasoning to connect the dots when appropriate in order to provide the absolute best care.
Healthcare is often an art form as much as a science and each individual’s specific makeup is essentially a research study of its own.
There is a ton of evidence validating food sensitivities. Mounting evidence suggesting that food sensitivities contribute to systemic inflammation and chronic illness. There are THOUSANDS of incredibly successful MRT patient testimonials. While the research to support Dr. Pasula’s testing method is scarce, the theory and physiology are strong. The research will come in time.
Also, it is worth mentioning that there is evidence to support the following:
MRT was proven to have…
94% sensitivity (The ability of the test to correctly identify patients with a food sensitivity reaction).
Greater than 91% specificity (The ability of the test to correctly identify patients without a food sensitivity reaction.)
Up to 90% split-sample reproducibility (When the test is repeated, the results are the same.)
More research is certainly necessary and I believe more research is to come. But, for now, if I am able to help hundreds of individuals safely and effectively alleviate symptoms they have been dealing with for years, I will continue to do so.
OK, let’s move on to the next test.
ALCAT ANTIGEN LEUKOCYTE ANTIBODY TEST
Developed in the 1980s, ALCAT is a food sensitivity test designed to measure the number of mediators released by white blood cells in response to different food particles, or antigens. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
While ALCAT testing was all the rage when it first hit the market, we now know that better technology has been developed (MRT + LEAP!) and the technology behind ALCAT is considered to be outdated.
In fact, Dr. Mark Pasula, the creator of ALCAT, left the company to create MRT + LEAP as he discovered more accurate technology.
– ALCAT tests for double the amount of antigens as MRT.
– ALCAT includes molds and herbs in addition to foods, food additives, and medications.
– ALCAT can detect type III and IV hypersensitivity reactions (like MRT)
– Larger panel means more room for erroneous results.
– Your test results are divided into 4 different categories- Acceptable Foods to Severe Intolerance. The tricky part about this is that within each category, there could be a wide range of reactivity that goes undetected.
– It does not test for many naturally occurring chemicals as MRT
– ALCAT suggests a simple rotation diet based on test results vs. an individualized, oligoantigenic lifestyle eating plan such as LEAP.
IMMUNOGLOBULIN G (IgG) TESTING
IgG testing is easily the most commonly ordered food sensitivity test, however, it is one of the most inaccurate methods. After blood is collected, response to food antigens is measured through RAST or ELISA.
- Easy blood draw, fast results.
- Typically more cost effective.
– There is research to show that IgG reactivity might actually reveal what your body is tolerant of vs. reacting to! Sometimes the results will flag if you simply ate that food recently and it does not necessarily suggest that you have a problem.[9,10]
– Not nearly as accurate as MRT or even ALCAT for that matter as it does not encompass type III and IV hypersensitivity reactions. It cannot detect mediator release (the reason for your symptoms). If your food sensitivity is not occurring through an IgG pathway, you will not discover what is causing you to react.
LRA BY ELISA TESTING
The Lymphocyte Response Assay (LRA) was developed in the early 1980’s and directly analyzes lymphocytes to detect food sensitivities. Over 500 antigens are tested which includes food, chemicals, mold and medication.
- Over 500 antigens are tested
- Claims to look at Type III, Type IV, IgG, IgA, and IgM pathways for food sensitivities
- Samples are evaluated by hand, leaving more room for error.
- LRA claims to only measure lymphocytes, completely ignoring granulocytes which can also play a role in food sensitivities.
- There are no published studies or even public data for that matter to support the claims made regarding the accuracy of the test. (Except for one poorly constructed study on Fibromyalgia patients in 1996.)
- The instructions for avoidance of food sensitivities are very impersonal. “Avoid moderately reactive foods for 3 months and highly reactive foods for 6 months.” This may be helpful to the patient for a brief period of time but not for long term health and compliance.
How Much Does Food Sensitivity Testing Cost?
On average, most tests typically cost between $300-$800 and are often an out of pocket expense. You can expect to pay an additional fee for the healthcare provider who will be interpreting your test results.
Pro Tip: Some healthcare practitioners are affiliated with certain testing companies and can offer you packaged deals so be sure to ask at your appointment!
I know this can seem like a lot of cash to drop but think of this as a long term investment in your health. ~$500 today is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of medications, surgeries and hospital stays that may be lurking around the corner 10 years from now. Feeling great is extremely valuable as well!
Plus, while there is never a guarantee, you just can’t put a price on complete disease prevention, especially since we know now that food sensitivities have a direct correlation with autoimmunity.
And just in case you were wondering, autoimmune disease is the leading cause of morbidity for American women. 50 million Americans are currently living with an autoimmune disease and over 100 billion is spent on treatment for these conditions.
How Can I Find Food Sensitivity Testing Near Me?
Certain companies are now offering food sensitivity kits that can be completed at home and then the results are mailed directly to the patient a few weeks later.
This certainly sounds like the most efficient way to go about testing but I promise you, it is not! There are two reasons I say this:
- Human error! Of course, this depends on the method of collection but you completing a test kit one time vs. going to a qualified lab tech who takes samples of bodily fluids day in and day out is a great way to ensure collection accuracy.
- Food sensitivity results, no matter what company is used, should never be interpreted at face value. It is never as simple as it looks. You should always, always, always consult with a professional who is highly skilled in this area of nutrition and immunity. A functional trained, registered dietitian will always be your best option as these are the true experts. These individuals will take your past medical history, current symptoms, and future health goals and use that information to properly interpret your results. Best of all? They are well-versed in designing meal plans and providing recipes based on your food restrictions.
After all, what’s the point in having testing done if the results are not correctly interpreted? There is no better way to waste your hard earned cash in my opinion!
From my experience, “one-stop-shop” testing companies who mail the kit directly to your home and then ship you back a sheet of paper are just in it to make a profit. I have witnessed so many disasters when my clients took this approach first. Many developed intense food fears, avoided foods that did not need to be avoided, ended up in a state of malnutrition etc. as a result of attempting to interpret their own results.
Alright, Where Do I Start?
I would STRONGLY recommend visiting Oxford Laboratory’s LEAP MRT website to learn more about their testing process as this is considered the “gold standard” for food sensitivity testing. You may contact the company directly to find a Certified LEAP Therapist near you to begin the process. You may also search healthprofs.com to find a CLT near you.
In summary, food sensitivity testing can be very advantageous for long-term health. If you feel that you are a candidate for food sensitivity testing, make it a priority in the new year to team with a healthcare practitioner who is highly skilled in adverse food reactions. Your immune system will thank you!
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Have you ever ordered food sensitivity testing? Did you find it to be beneficial? What advice would you give to those who are contemplating starting the process?