Spice allergy can affect your quality of life as you have to be extra careful while dining away from home, and you may not be able to wear make up or perfumes, reported the allergists at the ACAAI annual meeting.
Spices, the plant products used primarily for food seasoning, are widely used in Southeast Asia and India since ancient times and they are getting popular in the West as well. These aromatic seasonings are dried or fresh products obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, root and seeds of trees and other plants. Commonly used spices include cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, garlic, oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary and peppers.
AdvertisementSpices help protect against chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease and even certain allergies because of their high antioxidant activity that curb inflammation in the body. On the flip side, spices can mean trouble if one is allergic to them. Despite spice allergy being rare, allergists at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting held in Anaheim, California, report that 2 to 3 percent of people globally are living with a spice allergy. But due to lack of reliable allergy skin tests and blood tests, it is largely under-diagnosed.
Cinnamon and garlic are common allergy triggers, but any spice ranging from black pepper to vanilla can cause allergy to susceptible individuals. It is also found that hotter the spice, the greater the chance for allergy.
In their review of literature on spice allergy, Sami Bahna, Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and chief of the Allergy/Immunology Section at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport, and past president of the ACAAI, and his colleague, James Chen, found that 'Symptoms may be respiratory, dermatologic, gastrointestinal, and rarely anaphylaxis. The main allergens responsible are PRPs, profilins, CCDs, lipid transfer proteins, 2S albumin, germin-like proteins, and other high-molecular-weight proteins. Most spice allergens are degraded by digestion, and hence sensitization is mostly through inhalation of the spice or of cross-reacting pollen'.
Most cosmetics and fragrances too contain spices as ingredients. And these are hard to identify from the labels, one of the reasons being they are used as blends and are not FDA regulated. Women are more likely to develop spice allergy, particularly allergic contact dermatitis, say the study investigators. 'Makeup, body oils, toothpaste and fragrances can all include one or more spices. Those with birch pollen or mugwort (a traditional herbal medicine used to relieve inflammatory conditions) allergy are also more prone to spice allergy' said Dr Bahna in his presentation at the ACCAI annual scientific meeting 2012.
According to allergists, aromatic properties of spices when in contact with skin can induce irritation through direct tissue damage. Spices can also cause contact dermatitis similar to a nickel allergy or poison ivy type reaction.
Immunology researchers from the Antwerp University, Belgium, studied a person with anaphylaxis from coriander and fenugreek in a meal and confirmed the diagnosis of allergy to both spices. The patient also demonstrated urticaria (hives), angio-edema (swelling under the skin resembling large hives), rhinoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the nose and eyes) and bronchospasm (spasm of the bronchi similar to asthma) during handling of these spices occupationally. Actually, occupational inhalation of several spices has been associated with reports of asthma attacks.
Again, proteins in spices are the same to those found in certain pollens and may cause 'oral allergy syndrome', but it rarely results in a serious allergic reaction. For example, spices such as sesame and poppy share common allergenic proteins that may cause serious allergic reactions. These allergies are antibody mediated as clearly confirmed by skin and blood tests.
"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."
If you suspect you have spice allergy, see a certified allergist for diagnosis and customized treatment.