Irritable bowel syndrome: is it caused by food allergies?

Many people have irritable bowel symptoms. Two researchers have now discovered that food allergens can play a role in this

Our content is pharmaceutically and medically tested

Abdominal pain, constipation, flatulence, diarrhea: It is not uncommon for those who suffer from such symptoms to have irritable bowel syndrome. Women are affected more often than men. It is often not easy to find out what exactly is causing the symptoms. Sufferers often visit many doctors - and go home without any findings.

Two scientists have now tracked down a potentially frequent trigger: Professor Detlef Schuppan, gastroenterologist at the University of Mainz, and Professor Annette Fritscher-Ravens, gastrointestinal specialist at the University of Kiel. 155 patients took part in the study. The results were published in the journal Gastroenterology.

Mr Schuppan, together with researchers from Kiel you have found out that more than half of people with irritable bowel symptoms could have an atypical food allergy. Good news for those affected?

We believe our finding is great news for those affected. For the first time, we were able to objectively prove an essential, scientifically proven, immunological cause of your symptoms. We were also able to help people right away. Because by identifying the triggering food, the patient's symptoms disappeared or usually improved dramatically. This is a great relief for her. Because they often have years or even decades of doctor odysseys behind them and were not infrequently regarded as "sensitive" or "imaginary sick", sometimes as "cases for psychosomatics" or even as "cases for psychiatry".

Professor Detlef Schuppan, University of Mainz

© W & B / Bert Bostelmann

What is an atypical food allergy and how does it differ from the classic allergy to certain foods?

In the case of a classic food allergy, symptoms usually occur a few minutes after contact with the triggering substance, usually a protein. These include reactions in the mouth and throat, such as a furry feeling on the tongue or itching in the throat. Itchy wheals can develop on the skin, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea in the gastrointestinal tract.

The whole thing is triggered by an excessive response of the immune system to the food ingredient. It releases special antibodies that are supposed to render the supposed enemy harmless. These are IgE antibodies, also known as immunoglobulin E. They are secreted from certain immune cells, the B lymphocytes, bind the food allergen and activate mast cells, which secrete massive inflammatory messenger substances, including histamine.

The atypical food allergy as defined by us is also a reaction of the immune system to a food protein. However, this is usually delayed only after a few hours to a day and is primarily associated with abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, flatulence as well as diarrhea or constipation, the latter often alternating. In addition, the patients are generally poor, they are often less productive and have difficulty concentrating. Skin problems also occur. IgE does not play a role in this reaction.