Food and Behaviour Research

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Psychological characteristics of people with perceived food intolerance in a community sample

Knibb RC, Armstrong A, Booth DA, Platts RG, Booth IW, MacDonald A. (1999) J Psychosom Res 47(6) 545-54. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


In most adults who believe themselves to be food intolerant there is no objective supporting evidence. It has therefore been proposed that the misperception of intolerance to food is linked to psychiatric illness or personality disorder.

This hypothesis was tested in a community-derived sample of individuals who attributed an adverse symptom to a type of food. A random mailing recruited 955 participants aged > or =18 years, of whom 232 perceived themselves to be food intolerant (PFI). All recruits were sent two questionnaires, the General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ-28) and the shortened version of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ-R). A total of 535 GHQ-28 and 518 EPQ-R forms were returned that were correctly completed, an overall response rate of 55%.

For the subscales of the EPQ-R, neuroticism was greater in those with a PFI than those without. Women with a PFI were more extroverted than control women. For the GHQ-28 subscales, women with a PFI had significantly higher scores than control women on somatic symptoms, anxiety, insomnia, and severe depression. There was a greater percentage of psychiatric caseness among women with a PFI than among men with a PFI or control women. Nevertheless, this percentage was no greater than that reported among a reference sample derived from NHS and university staff.

It is concluded that perceived food intolerance is associated with psychological distress in women with a PFI, and neurotic symptoms in both men and women with a PFI, but there is no greater prevalence of psychiatric disorder among women or men with a PFI than there is in some professional groups.