Girl looking at food without appetite

The psychosocial impact of food intolerances

Girl looking at food without appetite

Digestive illnesses involving food intolerances can bring unique challenges to pediatric patients and clinical management.

Digestive illnesses involving food intolerances bring unique challenges to clinical management. This is mainly due to their impacts on psychological and social functioning and reliance on elimination diets as primary treatment strategies.

In a review article published in the journal of Gastroenterology Clinics of North America, experts summarize psychosocial factors to consider in food intolerances as part of a larger special issue on topics pertaining to psychogastroenterology.

“Both pediatric and adult patients with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and eosinophilic esophagitis report increased anxiety-related symptoms,” says Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., psychologist at Children’s National Hospital and lead author of the article. “They also report hypervigilance-related eating, social ramifications including stigma and isolation and reduced quality of life directly related to food intolerances and dietary management.”

Experts at Northwestern University and Children’s Hospital Colorado also aided in this research.

The hold-up in the field

Integrated approaches using properly trained registered dietitians and clinical psychologists should be a mainstay for patients requiring long-term elimination diet treatment to mitigate some of these negative impacts, Coburn explains.

“Traditionally, gastrointestinal conditions are studied from a medical and biological perspective,” Coburn says. “Only recently has there been more emphasis on psychosocial factors in living with these conditions.”

The authors provide a narrative review to synthesize the clinical and research knowledge on the topic and inform practitioners from a range of disciplines.

How Children’s National Hospital leads the way

The Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National provides a specialized destination for families in need of evidence-based care and behavioral research opportunities for celiac disease and related conditions.

This work brings attention to the multitude of risks, stressors and challenges associated with food intolerances and aims to validate the struggles many face.

“We hope this article will serve as a reference for patient advocates to ensure appropriate emotional and behavioral support is provided when needed,” Coburn says.

This study brings together the similarities and differences in several conditions, and it is powerful how similar the challenges are across the diagnoses.

“It inspires us to consider more cross-cutting collaborative work to gain a bigger picture on the needs of patients with food intolerances and special diets,” Coburn says.