Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Allergy Unit

Student research

The role of food intolerance in people with gastrointestinal irritability

Sonia Brockington, Allison Fraser and Michelle Powers
Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition and Dietetics), University of Newcastle
Supervisors: D.C.K. Roberts, Robert Loblay, Anne Swain, Kim Faulkner-Hogg, Warwick Selby
June 1998

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Gastrointestinal Irritability (GII) is one of the world's most common chronic complaints for which there is no established treatment consensus. While the aetiology of the disorder remains unclear, certain food substances have been implicated in triggering the symptoms. To study the effectiveness and acceptability of dietary intervention, questionnaires were sent to 1029 patients with GII who had attended the Allergy Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) between the years of 1983 and 1997. Part of this questionnaire asked for a graded description of the severity and frequency of gastro-intestinal (GIT) symptoms and other associated symptoms, before and after dietary modification. The respondents were classified into two groups: those who self-modified their diet and those who modified their diet based on the results of the elimination diet and challenge procedure. A comparison of these two groups indicated that those who reported their GIT symptoms as more severe, were more likely to commence the elimination diet and challenge protocol than those who did not. However, the long-term (mean 6 years) avoidance of food substances was similar in both groups. The most avoided substances were the preservatives followed by dairy products and monosodium glutamate (MSG). For both groups, the benefit of dietary manipulation was evident by the lower severity and frequency of symptoms reported when the relevant foods were avoided. Symptomatic recurrences were occasionally experienced as a result of inadvertent ingestion, but in most cases they were due to deliberate ingestion of the offending foods.