Spice Allergy: On the Rise and Difficult to Spot
Allergies to spices affect at least 2 percent of those living with food allergies, and that figure is on the rise, according to Dr. Sami Bahna, chief of allergy and immunology at Louisiana State University. Bahna blames the growing popularity of spices for this new phenomenon.
“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,” says Bahna, who first spoke out about this issue at the November 2012 meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Due to the wide use of spice in makeups, lotions and fragrances, Bahna says that women in particular are more likely to develop spice allergy.
Spice allergy has no treatment except for avoidance, which is challenging. In the U.S., food manufacturers are allowed to use a category term in their ingredients list if the item takes up less than 2 percent of the product’s total weight and is not one of the top food allergens. Because of this, manufacturers tend to simply use the word ‘spices’, without any explanation of which spices are used or how much of each is used.
Bahna told Allergic Living that companies should be required to list all ingredients used (with quantities), but he sees resistance from the food industry.
Adding to the difficulty of avoidance, spices such as curry are actually blends of several spices – and the ingredients in these blends can vary. As Bahna notes: “The name of a spice may mean more than one thing.”
Spice allergy is also difficult to diagnose. There are no tests designed for spice allergy and “when a patient gets symptoms after eating a certain meal, we don’t suspect the spice,” he says.
Bahna says it is important to spread awareness of spice allergy both to the food industry to change current labeling practices, and to the medical community in order to develop testing and treatment options. “Most allergists test for 20 to 40 foods, but there are hundreds of spices,” says Bahna. “The difficulty in identifying spice allergies is remarkable.”