Polysymptomatic syndromes and autonomic reactivity to nonfood stressors in individuals with self-reported adverse food reactions

J Am Coll Nutr. 1993 Jun;12(3):227-38. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1993.10718304.


This study compared symptom reports and cardiovascular reactivity of a group of 24 individuals recruited from the community who reported a cognitive or emotional symptom caused by at least one food (food-sensitivity reporters, FSR) vs those of 15 controls (C) without a history of food, chemical, drug, or inhalant sensitivities. The main findings were: 1) FSR indicated sensitivities not only to foods, but also to environmental chemicals, drugs, and natural inhalants, as well as significantly more symptoms than C in multiple systems; 2) more FSR than C noted recent state depression and anxiety, as well as higher trait anxiety on the Bendig form of the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale; 3) however, on multiple regression analysis, not only depression, but also the number of sensitivities (foods, chemicals, drugs, inhalants), accounted for part of the variance in total number of symptoms (38 and 17%, respectively), whereas none of the affective measures accounted for any of the variance in total number of sensitivities over all subjects; 4) after controlling for depression and anxiety, FSR still showed a trend toward poorer performance on a timed mental arithmetic task (p = 0.16); and 5) FSR and C showed opposite patterns of heart rate change to two different stressful tasks (mental arithmetic and isometric exercise) (group by task interaction, p < 0.05). The data are discussed in terms of a time-dependent sensitization (TDS) process that predicts a cross-sensitizing and cross-reactive role for xenobiotic agents (e.g., foods, chemicals, drugs, and inhalants) and for salient psychological stress in the expression of psychophysiological dysfunctions of FSR. As in other chronically ill populations, negative affect in food-sensitive individuals may explain greater symptom reporting, but not necessarily account for the illness itself. For either a food or a psychological stimulus to begin to elicit sensitized responses, e.g., marked physiological differences from C, FSR may require multiple, intermittent exposures spaced over 5-28 days rather than on only 1 day.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Depression / etiology
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity / complications
  • Food Hypersensitivity / physiopathology*
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Syndrome