Psychological burden of food allergy

World J Gastroenterol. 2007 Jul 7;13(25):3456-65. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v13.i25.3456.


One fifth of the population report adverse reactions to food. Reasons for these symptoms are heterogeneous, varying from food allergy, food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome to somatoform or other mental disorders. Literature reveals a large discrepancy between truly diagnosed food allergy and reports of food allergy symptoms by care seekers. In most studies currently available the characterization of patient groups is incomplete, because they did not distinguish between immunologic reactions and other kinds of food reactions. In analysing these adverse reactions, a thorough physical and psychological diagnostic approach is important. In our qualitative review, we present those diagnostic measures that are evidence-based as well as clinically useful, and discuss the various psychological dimensions of adverse reactions to food. It is important to acknowledge the complex interplay between body and mind: Adults and children suffering from food allergy show impaired quality of life and a higher level of stress and anxiety. Pavlovian conditioning of adverse reactions plays an important role in maintaining symptoms. The role of personality, mood, or anxiety in food reactions is debatable. Somatoform disorders ought to be identified early to avoid lengthy and frustrating investigations. A future task will be to improve diagnostic algorithms, to describe psychological aspects in clearly characterised patient subgroups, and to develop strategies for an optimized management of the various types of adverse reactions to food.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Cost of Illness
  • Food Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Personality
  • Quality of Life