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
Spices 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
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.