Researchers from University College London have found compelling evidence for the first time to link food intolerances and serious illness.
A six-month programme has shown potential links with foodstuffs and Crohn's Disease, and ulcerative colitis.
The discovery could prompt an entire rethink in the medical profession across a range of conditions, from irritable bowel syndrome to migraine. To date, patient reports of intolerances have largely been seen as 'in the mind', and discounted.
At UCL, researchers 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 was asked in advance which of 113 foods they felt gave them a bad reaction, and specifically whether that reaction was a gut reaction or non-gut one.
Then, over the six months, each had their blood tested for individual intolerances of the 113 foodstuffs through Yorktest Laboratories, measuring levels of IgG antibodies.
In the control group, most people were found to have few intolerances; in the disease groups there was a much higher frequency.
Specific findings included:
- Those with Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis were typically found to be intolerant to three or more foodstuffs.
- Ulcerative colitis subjects most commonly reported sensitivity to peanut (29 per cent of UC subjects versus 13 per cent of control), cashew (25 per cent versus 13 per cent), lentils and broccoli (19/4), hazelnut and brazil nuts (19/13), chilli (19/8). These subjects most commonly reported sensitivity to chilli (44/8), wheat (40/8), milk (36/8), kidney and haricot beans (both 24/0), coffee and onions (20/4) and oranges (20/0).
Dr. Anton Emmanuel from UCL said: "The results were compelling. If there had been no link, one would have expected the results to be 50/50 - i.e. random chance association between (i) patients with objective measure of food sensitivity and (ii) subjective report of food sensitivity.
"For years, GPs - indeed most of the medical community - have perceived food intolerances as being largely in the mind, and this is probably the first research project to demonstrate that they could well be wrong. Indeed this points to what could be a direct link between food intolerance and patient symptoms."
The researchers are planning further experiments to investigate whether IgG antibodies can predict foods that provoke disease on a double blind placebo controlled food challenge - and conversely, whether specific food avoidances based on antibody results might be worthwhile.