The study of food intolerance has come a long way in the past fifty years. The early ideas from Feingold and careful experimental work by Swain are giving way to a renewed interest in food additives, the increasing implication of histamine, and new information on genes that could make certain people prone to symptoms. It is also more common for professional dietetic associations around the world to provide continuing education on food intolerance to their member dieticians.
Despite this progress, research on food intolerance is still sparse, especially considering the number of people affected, and food intolerance is still not accepted by physicians everywhere. As summarized by Prof. John Warner, Chair in Pediatrics at Imperial College London (1):
“[The] difficulty remains when no underlying mechanism can be found to explain the association between a food, or food ingredient, and a clinical response…The concept becomes further strained when the reaction to the food cannot be measured as a change in function but merely as a change in behaviour.”
“Medical opinion has become polarized by the sometimes unsubstantiated claims made primarily in the lay media rather than scientific channels about debilitating and chronic symptoms of ill health coming from intolerance to certain foods. The danger is that the reaction of the profession to such claims will ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and provide no help for the patient.” (p. 285)
For, at the same time that food intolerance is gaining some scientific ground, the Internet is abound with writing by nutritionists, naturopaths, homeopaths, and lay people who turn a few textbook facts into elaborate medical theories on food intolerance, often leading to the sale of dubious lab tests or enzyme supplements. This not only misleads a public longing for answers to their health concerns, but it also hinders the scientific advancement of the field. According to former researcher, mother, and now registered dietitian Janice Joneja, PhD (2):
“The real tragedy in this situation is the fact that, because the science is sparse, ‘traditional’ medical practitioners tend to avoid the field, which is then taken over by ‘pseudo-scientists’. The result is that the legitimate scientist and ethical clinician do not wish to be associated with an area of practice lacking scientific and medical validation. Research in the area is not funded by granting agencies, and allergists with the temerity to enter the arena risk losing credibility and the respect of their peers.” (p. vii)
So into this milieu comes this blog, which provides information for those living with or suspecting food intolerance and in-depth articles for those who want to learn more about the science behind it. My goal is to clearly explain what is known – and what is not known – about food intolerance in order to counter misinformation found on the Internet and in the media. I also hope to impart, by example, the way to evaluate the validity and applicability of health-related information, which is a required skill in this era of blogs, self-published books, science news sites, and open access medical journals. Remember that being informed is more than just reading up on a topic – it’s thinking critically about what you read and disregarding what is suspect. It also helps, in a tiny way, to advance science and, in our case, to increase the understanding and acceptance of food intolerance.
About the author
Anna Laforest is a former materials scientist turned food allergy sufferer and food intolerance advocate.
© 2013 Anna Laforest. All rights reserved.
FoodConnections.org – Food intolerance resource with a scientific twist
1. Warner JO. Diagnostic and Therapeutic Dilemmas: Adverse Reactions to Food Additives, Pharmacologic Food Reactions, Psychological Considerations Related to Food Ingestion. In: Burkes W, James JM, Eigenmann P, editors. Food Allergy. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2011. p. 285–96.
2. Joneja JMV. Dealing With Food Allergies: A Practical Guide to Detecting Culprit Foods and Eating a Healthy, Enjoyable Diet. Bull Pub.; 2003. 500 p.