Gastrointestinal allergy to food: A review

Tahmeed Ahmed, George J. Fuchs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Gastrointestinal food allergy still poses a challenge to the clinician because of its variable symptomatology and lack of reliable diagnostic tests. Its prevalence is estimated at 2-5%, higher in children than in older age-groups. Allergy to food usually diminishes with advancing age. Although a wide variety of foods can cause allergic reactions, cow's milk is the most common cause of food allergy in infants and young children. Depending upon the speed of onset of symptoms, immediate and delayed types of food allergy have been described. Gastrointestinal symptoms in food allergy have been explained by alterations in transport across the intestinal wall (increased secretory and/or decreased absorptive functions), increased permeability, and motility of the intestine. The exact pathogenesis of food allergy is still not clear. However, immediate type of food allergy is believed to be mediated by type I hypersensitivity reaction, involving mast cells and food-specific IgE antibodies. The diagnosis of food allergy is based upon a favorable response to an elimination diet and a response to a challenge with the suspected food. The condition is treated by eliminating the allergenic food from diet for as long as 9-12 months in case of cow's milk allergy. While exclusive breast-feeding for the initial four months or more reduces the chances of development of food allergy, the role of diet restrictions in the mother in reducing the incidence of food allergy in the infant is controversial. Data on food allergy from developing countries are limited. This may be due to lack of diagnosis or less attention given to the condition relative to other diseases including infectious diarrheas and acute respiratory infections. The role of cow's milk allergy in the pathogenesis of persistent diarrhoea, a major problem in the developing world, remains speculative. Frequent intestinal infections and reduced secretory IgA, which are associated with malnutrition, alter intestinal permeability and result in an increased uptake of food antigens. The increased antigenic load combined with factors such as an atopic predisposition may initiate an abnormal mucosal immune response resulting in chronic enteropathy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-223
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Diarrhoeal Diseases Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997


  • Diarrhoea
  • Food
  • Food hypersensitivity
  • Gastrointestinal diseases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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