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Heath Experts Warn About a Hidden Food Allergen That Women Are Especially Susceptible To

Tim Boyer's picture

People with food allergies learn—often the hard way—to be careful when eating out or while buying prepared foods to avoid food allergens such as shellfish, nuts or dairy proteins. Exposure to even the smallest amount of allergen can result in a severe and sometimes fatal anaphylactic reaction. Avoiding foods that can cause an allergic reaction may take more vigilant measures than merely abstaining from particular foods for some. Researchers recently announced a warning that people—especially women—need to be aware of one hidden food allergen that few people know about or ever consider—spices.

What makes spices a hidden allergen is that they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Spices are everywhere. Food manufacturers are not required to list spices among the ingredients mandated on food labels. Furthermore, spices are often present in many cosmetics that women are unknowingly applying to their skin—a definite potential health risk for the estimated 2% of the population that has an allergy to one or multiple spices.

“While spice allergy seems to be rare, with the constantly increasing use of spices in the American diet and a variety of cosmetics, we anticipate more and more Americans will develop this allergy,” said allergist Sami Bahna, M.D., ACAAI past president. “Patients with spice allergy often have to go through extreme measures to avoid the allergen. This can lead to strict dietary avoidance, low quality of life and sometimes malnutrition.”

Exposure to a spice allergen can be as direct as eating a seasoned food or applying a moisturizer to the skin, or as indirect as a whiff of a fragrance at the mall. Likewise, an allergic reaction to a spice can range from something as innocuous as a sneeze to a full blown anaphylactic reaction that can result in death. How many of us can attest to eating a certain food item at a restaurant and have a reaction to some degree, yet at home be perfectly fine with a different preparation of the same dish? The spice(s) used may be the answer.

According to the researchers who presented their data at the recent American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Anaheim, California, spice allergies can be triggered by common kitchen spices such as cinnamon, black pepper and garlic. However, blends that can contain up to 18 different spices are more problematic due to their increase of potential exposure and identifying the spice component that causes a reaction. Furthermore, some spices that come as blends under a common label name can differ in their components between manufacturers.

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And in addition, cooking a spice may offer no protection. According to the researchers, whether a spice is simply sprinkled on or baked at a high temperature may make no difference in how your body reacts to the allergen.

“Boiling, roasting, frying and other forms of applying heat to spices may reduce allergy causing agents, but can also enhance them depending on the spice,” said Dr. Bahna. “Because of this complexity, allergists often recommend a treatment plan that includes strict avoidance which can be a major task.”

Because there are no simple tests for determining allergies for all spices, what can be done is some simple detective work. Take notes whenever you feel you have had a possible allergic reaction to an unknown, writing down what you ate; where, and the severity of the symptoms. Keep it as a dated log that you can show to an allergist for diagnosis and treatment later.

For an informative article about a food allergy warning by Dr. Oz, follow this link to an article titled “Dr. Oz's Four Hidden Food Allergies You Need to Know About and Self-Diagnose.”

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology news release
November 8, 2012



As a long time Kinesiologist, and having tested hundreds of people for allergies, I have to admit, that I have never found even one person with a spice allergy! I found more than 50% of those we tested had a hidden allergic to dairy, about 10% to peanuts, about 3% to potatoes, 5% to soy, all smokers ( a typical example of a hidden allergy) are allergic to the gaspers they smoke, 15% are allergic to marijuana, and about 15% to wine! Usually it is the colouring, or preservatives, or herbicides/pesticides that instigates the allergic response. (The grapes do not get washed before crushing ) But never heard of a spice allergy, unless the spice is contaminated, like the grapes, with chemicals, in which case it is an allergic response to the contaminant.