Background

The documentation of food intolerance goes back to 55 BC when Lucretius, a distinguished Latin poet and philosopher, wrote his poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) and said 'What is food for some, may be fierce poison for others'.

Hippocrates recognised the adverse effects of milk on some individuals when he noted:

Cheese does not harm all men alike; some can eat their fill of it without the slightest hurt. ... Others come off badly. So the constitutions of these men differ, and the difference lies in the constituent of the body which is hostile to cheese, and is roused and stirred to action under its influence. ... But if cheese were bad for the human constitution without exception, it would have hurt all.

In 1808 Robert Willan described a case where a severe allergic reaction was provoked by eating a small amount of almonds:

These symptoms were soon followed by an oedematous swelling of the face, especially of the lips and nose, which were very hot and itchy. There was at the same time an uneasy tickling sensation in the throat, which excited a troublesome cough and a constriction of the fauces, which seemed to threaten suffocation. The tongue, likewise, became enlarged and stiff, causing slowness and faltering in the speech. Soon after going to bed an eruption took place over the whole body of spots nearly as large as a sixpence, of a dead white colour, a little elevated above the skin, like weals produced by the sting of a nettle, and intolerably itching.

There are many such anecdotes in medical history literature. What is noteworthy is that, unlike most other disciplines where scientific research starts soon after such anecdotes, in the food intolerance area there has been a large gap between the case reports and scientific investigation of the field. This has created opportunities for many people to blame food intolerance for a wide range of unexplained disorders, and for many years food intolerance was regarded to be on the fringe of scientific enquiries. The fact that for decades the diagnosis of food intolerance relied mainly on clinical history created many opportunities for individuals and groups offering all sorts of unscientific and bizarre tests for diagnosis of food intolerance. It is only fairly recently, with the introduction of double-blind placebo-controlled food challenges, that opportunities for more scientific approaches have been created and research into this area has provided us with good quality evidence.

Just as high quality research evolved in the midst of anecdotes, the terminology in this field also evolved, and terms such as food hypersensitivity, food intolerance, food allergy and adverse reactions to food are used at times interchangeably. In the next section, some of these terms are described in more detail.

Food Allergies

Food Allergies

Peanuts can leave you breathless. Cat dander can lead to itchy eyes, a stuffy nose, coughing and sneezing. And most of us have suffered through those seasonal allergies with horrible pollen counts. Learn more...

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment