Adverse reactions to food constituents: allergy, intolerance, and autoimmunity

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997 Apr;75(4):241-54.


Food allergies and intolerance represent important health concerns to consumers who are predisposed to these illnesses. Unlike many current food safety issues, food sensitivities are complicated by both complex and multiple individual adverse reactions, which can vary from emotional to pathophysiological ailments. In some instances, the underlying mechanisms that result in the development of food allergies or intolerance have marked differences but produce common symptoms. The present-day diagnosis of these disorders can be impeded by intrinsic limitations in generating accurate information from patient history and biochemical, physicochemical, and immunochemical tests. Oral challenge tests represent effective methods for confirming and testing food allergens and food intolerance; however, these procedures are often restricted to clinical trials. It is important to be able to distinguish among food allergy, intolerance, and autoimmune disease in the management of these disorders. The role of food in the development of autoimmune disease may be exemplified by celiac disease, a food-induced enteropathy, requiring exposure to prolamins in wheat, rye, and barley. Various wheat and soy protein sources, including the soy protein isolates used to make infant formulas, have been related to juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), a common chronic disease of childhood. Employing food process technologies to eliminate food constituents with potential for intolerance in some individuals is a potentially viable approach for reducing risk to food-related disorders. Finally, the development of food labelling regulations that require the identification of potential food allergens or agents for intolerance in the ingredient declaration on prepackaged food is a positive step toward the prevention of severe adverse reactions in hypersensitive individuals.

Publication types

  • Congress
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology*
  • Autoimmunity / immunology*
  • Canada
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Food / adverse effects*
  • Food Handling / standards
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Food Labeling / standards
  • Humans
  • Lactose Intolerance / immunology
  • Milk / immunology