Food intolerance - not 'all in the mind'

Researchers from University College London have found the first compelling evidence linking food intolerance and symptoms of serious illness. Their discovery could prove to be the much-needed catalyst to prompt a rethink by the medical profession of its hostile attitude to food intolerance, which is typically dismissed as 'all in the mind'.

In a six-month programme, the UCL researchers have demonstrated potential links between foods and Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. They worked with three specific groups of patients - one with Crohn's Disease (28 patients), a second with ulcerative colitis (25), and a control group with a benign coincidental thyroid lump (24). Each patient was asked in advance which of 113 foods they felt gave them a bad reaction and, specifically, whether this was a gut reaction or non-gut one. Then, over the six months, each had their blood tested for individual intolerances to the 113 foods, using the Yorktest Laboratories IgG antibody test. Patients in the control group were found to have few intolerances, but those with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis were typically found to be intolerant to three or more foods.

The bowel disease subjects most commonly reported sensitivity to wheat (40% compared with 8% of controls), milk (36% versus 8%), kidney and haricot beans (both 24/0), coffee and onions (20/4) and oranges (20/0). Intolerance to peanuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and chilli were about twice as high among the bowel disease patients as they were in the control group.

If there had been no link between food and disease, the results would have averaged around 50/50 - i.e. a random chance association between the patients with an objective measure of food sensitivity and those making a subjective report of food sensitivity.

The researchers are planning further double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge experiments to investigate whether IgG antibodies can predict which foods provoke disease and, conversely, whether specific food avoidances based on antibody results might be worthwhile.

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First published July 2007

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