A New, Faster Way to Test for Food Sensitivity at Home

In the past year or so, I noticed that I was frequently breaking out in hives on my back, stomach and sometimes even on my face. It would happen at least once a day and up to a few times a day.

At first, I thought it was stress, but then I started a new job in April with better work-life balance. That no longer made sense. So then, I thought it was maybe the onset of warmer weather and the summer heat. Once we hit the fall season, the hives were still happening. I finally considered that maybe it was food-related and that I should get tested for food allergies.

A few weeks before my allergy test, I was served up ads on Instagram from EverlyWell, an at-home lab testing company, and thought maybe I should give it a try. I was also just starting my blog, so it seemed like a good idea to record what turns up in my allergy test at the doctor's office versus a mail-order food sensitivities test. This is when I learned the difference between a food allergy vs. food sensitivity and that I may have been ignoring the symptoms of the latter for a long time.

P.S. if you watch Shark Tank, one of the companies featured and locked in a deal with Lori is EverlyWell. (Congrats to founder, Julia!). They are also based in Austin, TX!! \m/

Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity

Food Allergy: An immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Anaphylaxis

You can test for food allergies at a doctor’s office in which the results will be binary. It will be through skin prick tests or blood tests. You’ll either be allergic or not allergic – no in between.

Source: MayoClinic

Food Sensitivity: Sometimes referred to as delayed food allergies, because they are also mediated by immune responses. It can affect any organ system in the body and can take from 45 minutes to several days for symptoms to show up.

Food can trigger an immune response which may manifest itself in physical symptoms such as:

  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Other miscellaneous skin problems ← My one of two biggest issues
  • Food intolerance
  • Feeling bloated after eating ← My two of two biggest issues
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Migraines ← A potential issue
  • Headaches ← A potential issue
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) distress
  • Stomach pain

Traditional food sensitivity testing can consist of blood work or lengthy, self-reliant, error-prone food and symptomatic reaction tracking through elimination diets. It may be very difficult to pinpoint the causes through the latter method.

Sources: SelfEverlyWellPrevention

Differences in Costs and Methods of Food Allergy vs. EverlyWell Food Sensitivity Test

The visit to the allergy clinic for a food allergy test consisted of my doctor kindly telling me that the cost of the test is unclear and will depend on my insurance. All I remember is hearing some numbers rattle out of her and that if my insurance didn’t cover it, it could be up to hundreds to well over a thousand dollars. Thankfully, I knew I had decent enough coverage that I didn't have to worry about it too much. Besides, I was desperate to see if my hives were a symptom of a food allergy.

The nurse pricked me with different food markers on each arm – everything from strawberries to chicken. They were painless pricks. We waited 15 minutes for reactions. Anticlimactically, my arms told me that I was not allergic to any of the 60 foods they tested on me.

EverlyWell Food Sensitivity Test is an at-home test kit that costs $199. I paid out-of-pocket as health insurance does not cover for it, but I read that it can qualify for HSA/FSA dollars
(NOTE: EverlyWell does not ship to MD, NY, NJ or RI due to regulatory constraints.)

I ordered the test kit online, and it was delivered to me via mail within the next few days. The test requires a blood sample which sounds like there would be pain involved, but I can assure you it was less physical pain and more figurative pain that I couldn’t get more blood out faster. I followed the instructions in obtaining a blood sample and then mailed it back. Results were emailed to me in 7 business days.

EverlyWell tests Immunoglobulin G (IgG), which is the largest circulating antibody in the immune system, for food sensitivities. Since it can take anywhere from hours to days for IgG food reactions to develop, it can be hard to figure out which foods are contributing to symptomatic reactions without testing them, specifically. They test on 96 foods commonly found in the Western diet.

EverlyWell’s Food Sensitivity Test Kit & Process

The kit included:

  • Clear, easy-to-understand instructions
  • 3 lancets (in case you don’t get it right the first time)
  • Sterilizing pad, gauze and bandage
  • Sample collection card
  • Shipping materials: Bio-hazard bag, shipping bag & label

I followed the instructions to prep my finger for pricking and how to drop the blood on to three out of the five circles on the collection card. The most difficult part was just getting enough blood out. If I were to do this again, I would be more patient and roll out a lot more blood before trying to get it onto the card. The key was that I needed to pool enough of it out of my finger, place my finger very close to the collection card, like ¼-inch distance, and let the blood drop (no dabbing!).

The results: Not allergic, but definitely reactive.

My EverlyWell results came in after my allergy test, so I actually thought my results would show that I have low to no reactivity to most of the 96 foods. It turned out that I have reactivity to some foods, most of which are ones I eat almost daily.

High Reactivity:

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Cow’s milk

Moderate Reactivity:

  • Egg Yolk
  • Yogurt
  • Egg White
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Almond

Mild Reactivity:

  • Wheat
  • Coconut
  • Green bean
  • Green pea
  • Cottage cheese
  • Bakers yeast
  • Gluten
  • Black walnut
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Lobster
  • Bran
  • Honey

EverlyWell’s recommendation is to share the results with a physician and to try an elimination diet. I haven’t done the former, but I eliminated some of the foods listed above.

So far, the frequency of breaking out in hives have reduced, and I’ve also noticed that I’m even less bloated at the end of the day (even after my religious ACV intake). I won’t be 100% sure on whether these foods physically impact my body, but I’m glad that I took the chance on trying EverlyWell’s Food Sensitivity Test. When I’m ready to try an elimination diet (probably in January), I’ll know where to start rather than going in blindly and wasting time.

In the future, I’d be open to try any of EverlyWell’s other at-home tests (i.e. Metabolism+, Sleep and Stress, HbA1c, Heavy Metals look interesting). Although it won’t replace a true food allergy test, I thought the process was easy, seamless and much more convenient for testing food sensitivities than spending weeks figuring out the old school way.