Review article: the aetiology, diagnosis, mechanisms and clinical evidence for food intolerance

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2015 Feb;41(3):262-75. doi: 10.1111/apt.13041. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Background: Food intolerance is non-immunological and is often associated with gastrointestinal symptoms.

Aim: To focus on food intolerance associated with gastrointestinal symptoms and critically appraise the literature in relation to aetiology, diagnosis, mechanisms and clinical evidence.

Methods: A search using the terms and variants of food intolerance, lactose, FODMAP, gluten, food chemicals within Pubmed, Embase and Scopus was carried out and restricted to human studies published in English. Additionally, references from relevant papers were hand searched for other appropriate studies.

Results: Food intolerance affects 15-20% of the population and may be due to pharmacological effects of food components, noncoeliac gluten sensitivity or enzyme and transport defects. There have been significant advances in understanding the scientific basis of gastrointestinal food intolerance due to short-chain fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs). The most helpful diagnostic test for food intolerance is food exclusion to achieve symptom improvement followed by gradual food reintroduction. A low FODMAP diet is effective, however, it affects the gastrointestinal microbiota and FODMAP reintroduction to tolerance is part of the management strategy.

Conclusions: There is increasing evidence for using a low FODMAP diet in the management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms where food intolerance is suspected. Exclusion diets should be used for as short a time as possible to induce symptom improvement, and should be followed by gradual food reintroduction to establish individual tolerance. This will increase dietary variety, ensure nutritional adequacy and minimise impact on the gastrointestinal microbiota.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Food Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Glutens / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Lactose / adverse effects


  • Glutens
  • Lactose