The spice of life? Spice allergies on the rise

Friday, 09 November, 2012

Interpreting and navigating food labels is difficult enough for the average consumer, but imagine not being able to eat most foods from the supermarket and never eating away from home. This is the reality for the 2 to 3% of the population living with spice allergy.

It’s hard to diagnose - and to treat. According to rough estimates, spice allergy is responsible for 2% of food allergies, but it is underdiagnosed due to a lack of reliable skin and blood tests. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate spices, so they are often not listed on food labels, making them incredibly difficult to identify and avoid.

And spice allergies are on the rise, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).

“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 Dr Sami Bahna, 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.”

Presenting at the ACAAI Annual Meeting in California, Dr Bahna explained that women are most likely to develop spice allergy due to the wide use of spice in cosmetics. Make-up, body oils, toothpaste and fragrances can all include one or more spices.

Common spice allergy triggers include cinnamon and garlic, but can range from black pepper to vanilla; and the hotter the spice, the greater the chance of allergy.

“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 allergy’s complexity, allergists often recommend a treatment plan that includes strict avoidance, which can be a major task.”

According to Dr Bahna, spice allergy should be suspected in individuals that have multiple reactions to unrelated foods or those who react to foods when commercially prepared but not when cooked at home.

The ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting is held over 8-13 November. Look out for the #ACAAI hashtag on Twitter for more information on the event.

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