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Stressed intestine can give rise to food allergy

The intestines of mice which have been subjected to stress, overreact to certain nutritional substances. PhD biologist Annette van Kalkeren from the University of Amsterdam has investigated the relationship between stress and the occurrence of food allergies and various intestinal disorders.

The biologist investigated the reaction of pieces of mouse intestine to egg albumin, a substance found in eggs. Just like humans, mice can become allergic to the substance. However, mice only become allergic if they are injected with the substance and not as a result of eating it. The aim of the study was to investigate whether mice could become allergic to egg albumin if they ate it whilst stressed. The intestinal wall becomes more permeable under stressful conditions. Harmful substances penetrate the permeable intestinal wall where they then cause a panic response by the immune system. That could be the start of an allergy. The intestines of allergic mice demonstrate, just as in humans, a diarrhoea response if they come into contact with egg albumin. The cells in the intestinal wall then excrete salt and water. Research revealed that the intestines of non-allergic mice also sometimes exhibited a localised diarrhoea reaction if they came into contact with egg albumin. However, the localised diarrhoea occurred much more frequently in the intestines of mice which had been deliberately stressed prior to the experiment. Furthermore, the intestines of mice subjected to prolonged stress were much more sensitive for neurotransmitters from nerve cells which cause diarrhoea and the contraction of the intestinal muscles. Annette van Kalkeren used a systematic treatment to stress the mice. The mice had to spend several hours in a narrow tube. Sometimes they were also placed in a cold environment. A number of mice were subjected to a maximum of three days of social isolation. Some also had to swim for three minutes. The excretion of salt and water is a response of the intestines to
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Contact: Michel Philippens
philippens@nwo.nl
31-70-3440784
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
18-Apr-2002


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