BACKGROUND: Identification of food chemical intolerance in asthmatic subjects can be reliably assessed by changes in the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) in response to double blind, placebo controlled challenges on a strict elimination diet. However, this method is cumbersome and time consuming. A study was undertaken to determine whether changes in bronchial responsiveness to histamine following food chemical challenge without an elimination diet might be a faster, more convenient method. METHODS: Eleven adult asthmatic subjects were challenged twice with metabisulphite, aspirin, monosodium glutamate, artificial food colours, sodium nitrite/ nitrate, 0.5% citric acid solution (placebo), and sucrose (placebo) on separate days. During the first set of challenges subjects consumed a normal diet. Bronchial responsiveness to histamine was assessed 90 minutes after each challenge. A greater than twofold increase in bronchial responsiveness was considered positive. For one month prior to and during the second set of challenges subjects followed a strict elimination diet and FEV1 was monitored during and for two hours after each challenge. A fall in FEV1 of 20% or more was considered positive. RESULTS: Of the 77 food chemical challenges performed on an unmodified diet, 20 were positive (six placebo responses). In two subjects it was not possible to perform a histamine test after one of the chemical challenges because of poor spirometric function. Of the 77 food chemical challenges performed on an elimination diet, 11 were positive (no placebo responses). Excluding the two challenges in which there were no corresponding histamine tests, only on two occasions did the positive responses in both methods coincide, giving the unmodified diet method a sensitivity of 22%. CONCLUSIONS: Strict dietary elimination and measurement of FEV1 after double blind food chemical challenge remains the most reliable method for the detection of food chemical intolerance in asthmatic subjects.
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