For such a small, fuzzy fruit, it sure can cause more than its share of problems. Also known as the Chinese gooseberry or macaque peach, the kiwi fruit has gone from being an exotic import to becoming a mainstay of the North American diet – and along with its new-found popularity has come an increase in kiwi allergies worldwide.
For people who aren’t allergic, kiwi is one of those perfect foods: each one packs in as much potassium as a banana, more than the recommended daily dose of vitamin C – even more than an orange – as well as high levels of beta-carotene. It’s also rich in vitamin A and E, and its seeds are rich in alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid.
They’re high in fiber and have antioxidant properties, so are considered great cancer fighters.
How kiwi fruit allergies work
For all its benefits, however, the fruit can be extremely problematic for those who develop allergies to it. Most reactions are limited to itching and inflammation in the mouth and throat (this is usually linked with oral allergy syndrome), but others can experience more serious symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and in rare cases, anaphylactic shock and death.
Part of the reason why kiwi has become such a prevalent allergen is that it cross-reacts with many other foods and substances, including birch pollen, avocado, banana, rye grain and hazelnuts, meaning the allergens share similar properties and can react the same way in the body.
It can also spell trouble for people with sensitivities to latex – which is common among health care workers – because while the substances seem fundamentally different, they share common epitopes, so the immune system sees them as the same thing.
How common are kiwi allergies?
Amazingly, kiwi first arrived on North American shores just over 50 years ago, in 1962, and kiwi allergy was first reported fairly recently, in 1981. But since that time, kiwi allergies have become one of the most common allergies in Europe, with one study finding that 4 percent of allergic kids tested positive, and another showing that nearly half of food allergic patients in Sweden and Denmark reported reactions to the fruit.
Some researchers suspect that there is a geographic component at play, and that where there is more birch, there’s likely to be more kiwi allergy. The numbers have also shown a steady increase in North America.
But while people with latex and birch pollen allergies are at elevated risk for kiwi allergy, they shouldn’t eliminate the fruit from their diets unless they experience an adverse reaction – and if they do, they should talk it over with their allergist.