An at home gluten sensitivity test might cost less than getting a lab test. But does it provide accurate results?
Why is it after you eat certain foods that you feel like taking a nap?
And why is it that after a meal sometimes your head feels like it’s a big jar of sludge?
You can’t think and focus.
Maybe your tummy doesn’t feel well either. There’s the bloating, cramping, embarrassing gas and uncomfortable indigestion.
Perhaps you notice you’re experiencing these symptoms after eating particular foods.
Especially bread, pasta, baked goods and cereal.
But grains aren’t the only type of food that make you feel this way. When you eat out or eat pre-packaged meals, you sometimes experience these symptoms.
If so, perhaps you’re sensitive to specific proteins in the offending foods.
For many people there are two proteins in particular that can trigger these reactions: gliadin and glutenin.
Together, these proteins are better known as gluten.
Want to find out if this composite protein is the culprit for your post-meal unpleasant experiences?
Taking an at home gluten sensitivity test is one option.
And considering virtually every processed food these days contains it, it might not be a bad idea to do it.
However, it might not be very accurate.
Let’s explore why that is a little further on.
But for now, let’s define exactly what “gluten sensitivity” is….
Is it a disease?
To answer this, let’s look at this medical research article. And let’s start by defining the condition on what it’s not.
Gluten sensitivity isn’t Celiac disease (CD). Celiac is an autoimmune disease in which there is clear-cut damage in the intestines.
However, just because you don’t have an autoimmune reaction doesn’t mean you can’t be sensitive to the sticky protein in wheat and processed foods.
The big difference between CD and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is that with CD, there’s no intestinal damage.
But with NCGS, there is some type of immune reaction.
And this immune reaction is detected by antibodies that fight gliadin. In case you don’t know what an antibody is….
….It’s a protein in the blood. It responds to what your body recognizes as unwanted substances.
Sometimes that’s a virus or bacteria. But other times, it can be something that shouldn’t be harmful to the body, like the protein in wheat.
An at home gluten sensitivity test can detect anti-gluten antibodies. Usually, an at-home test is a blood test.
However, tests you can order from diagnostic companies may be a saliva or stool test.
Although sensitivity is not the same as Celiac disease, many researchers do consider NCGS a disease.
Is it the same as wheat allergy?
No. Unlike CD or wheat allergy, NCGS does not involve both a change in bodily tissues and an IgE-immune response. IgE are immune system antibodies.
If you have a wheat allergy, your immune system overreacts to the proteins in the wheat. Consequently, your immune system releases IgE antibodies.
Ultimately, it’s these IgE antibodies which trigger an allergic reaction.
Why do certain people have NCGS?
This research suggests people with NCGS have a history of food allergy in infancy.
You can also blame your mom. “Atopy” is having a certain predisposition to developing a disease.
And maternal psychological trauma in utero may also be a strong indicator for development of atopy.
There are other more complex factors for developing NCGS.
The authors of this study say NCGS should be regarded as an independent disease outside of coeliac disease and wheat allergy. According to the authors, the number of patients with NCGS is “likely to be limited.”
However, this article states that up to 35 percent of people have anti-gliadin antibodies. Remember, gliadin is the main protein in wheat (and one of the two gluten compounds).
At home gluten sensitivity test: Why you should do it
Of the all people who have a food sensitivity, gluten is to blame up to 45% of the time.
Gluten is blamed as a trigger of symptoms by 20-45% of adults who self-report food hypersensitivity.
Without doubt, there is still way more researchers need to understand before NCGS is fully understood.
It’s also difficult for researchers to always distinguish between CD, wheat allergy, irritable bowel syndrome and NCGS.
How do you know if you should go gluten free?
If you experience fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain, skin rashes, depression or anxiety and “foggy-brain,” you might have NCGS.
The simplest at home gluten sensitivity test is to avoid foods without gluten. However, it might be best for you to get tested by a lab to rule out Celiac.
If you test negative for Celiac, try eliminating gluten for 30 days. Then, you can slowly reintroduce it, one food at a time.
If you have any of the above symptoms, you may have NCGS.
But remember … digestive disorders such as IBS have similar symptoms as NCGS.
So doing an at home gluten sensitivity test that just eliminates foods might not reveal the truth.
Furthermore, it might not be the proteins in wheat to which you’re sensitive. It might be the carbs.
Certain short-chain carbs—FODMAPS—are the main carbs in wheat. FODMAPS do not absorb well in the gut.
For some people, FODMAPS leads to gas and other unpleasant symptoms.
Wheat products (and rye) contain the highest FODMAP content.
Test for gluten sensitivity
According to Precision Nutrition, which offers a certification course in nutrition coaching, the best test combines stool and saliva testing.
They recommend a company, EnteroLab, which offers an at home gluten sensitivity test.
You send the kit back to the lab. A few weeks later, you receive the results.
Dr. Amy Myers says the single best ways to determine if you have an issue with gluten is to eliminate it from your diet. She recommends doing so for at least 30 days and then reintroducing it.
Myers also recommends that if you’re going to order a test, it should include the following:
- IgA anti-gliadin antibodies (these are found in about 80% of people with Celiac disease)
- IgG anti-gliadin antibodies
- IgA anti-endomysial antibodies
- Tissue Transglutaminase antibodies
- Total IgA antibodies
- Genetic testing (HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8)
- Intestinal biopsy (for CD)
How to test for gluten sensitivity
Testing for sensitivity isn’t as easy as, say, testing for strep throat.
That’s because in addition to gluten being made up of two proteins, it contains hundreds of combinations of amino acids. These combinations are peptides.
Gliadin, the main protein in wheat, itself contains a dozen peptide components.
Dr. Myers argues that most modern day testing focuses on only one of these dozen components (alpha-gliadin).
Consequently, an at home gluten sensitivity test has a large margin of error. You can get a false negative when you’re indeed sensitive to it.
For this reason, Myers recommends this lab. It tests for all the sub-fractions to reduce the chance of false negatives.
Cost of gluten sensitivity test
Eliminating gluten from your diet costs nothing. However, there might be other factors that are giving you symptoms.
Maybe it’s these gut problems that are to blame for the symptoms and not the sensitivity. Or, maybe it’s both.
Getting tested for all these conditions can run several hundred dollars. Then, there’s the consulting fee for the health professional.
If you like the sound of paying nothing, you can take free online test via the Gluten Free Society’s website. It asks several questions and ranks your score based on your answers.
For $200 you can take this blood test (unless you live in the state of New York.) It detects and differentiates between CD, NCGS and wheat allergy.
Complete sensitivity testing
Another functional medicine doctor, William Cole, runs six tests on patients for NCGS.
The first is “deamidated gliadin.” This is an indicator of how well (or not well) you can tolerate gliadin.
Cole also tests for glutenin, the other component of gluten.
People who ditch gluten can feel horrible once they quit. That’s because it contains compounds that act like opiates.
Essentially, this is a form of addiction withdrawal. Dr. Cole test his patients for levels of these opiate-like compounds.
In addition, he tests the levels of a certain compound that can lower the amount of the so-called “feel-good chemical,” endorphins.
Wheat germ agglutinin is an anti-nutrient. That means it can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb wheat. It can also trigger an autoimmune response.
Finally, Cole tests for gluten cross reactivity. Certain antibodies react to proteins other than gluten. Thus, you might be gluten free but your immune system might be triggering reactions.
Typical offending foods that trigger gluten-like sensitivity symptoms include rice, corn, soy, quinoa and buckwheat.
Obviously, this thorough testing will cost a lot more than simply eliminating gluten from the diet.
But if you want to know for sure, perhaps the best way to test is not an at home gluten sensitivity test.