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Quinn on Nutrition: True food allergies vs. sensitivities

July 20, 2015

A client told me she Is allergic to mangoes and takes special precautions to avoid them. And did you know," she continued, "that mangoes are related to poison oak? So if you are sensitive to poison oak, you might also be sensitive to mangoes Ö but not always."

That was news to me. Iíve been sensitive to poison oak ever since I chopped down some innocent-looking vines in my yard that turned out to be not so innocent. But I can eat mangoes, no problem.

But she was right. There is a connection between mangoes and poison oak. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), a substance called "urushiol" that resides in mango tree sap is also found in poison oak and poison ivy. In some people, contact with urushiol causes an itchy, blistering skin rash that makes you feel very uncomfortable and cranky.

If you are sensitive to poison ivy or poison oak, advises the ACAAI, you should be careful about touching the leaves or bark of mango trees or the outer skin of mangoes. The inside pulp (the part of the mango that we eat) does not contain urushiol, so people with this particular type of skin sensitivity can usually eat mango fruit without problems.

Itís important however, to understand the difference between true food allergies and sensitivities. According to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), food allergies involve a mild to severe immune response against an ingredient in food. Food sensitivities are more difficult to pin down; they can provoke unpredictable symptoms based on how much or how often a person eats an offending food.

This got me thinking about my older daughter, who gets an itchy mouth when she eats cantaloupe. Experts say this is a kind of allergy called "oral allergy" or "food-pollen allergy" syndrome. In this case, a person who is allergic to certain pollens (such as ragweed) experiences allergic-type symptoms when she eats foods that are genetically related to that pollen. Cantaloupe and watermelon, for example, are genetic cousins to ragweed; apples and carrots share some genetic similarities with birch trees.

Unlike more severe allergies that can be life threatening, oral allergies donít usually go beyond itchy lips or a tingling mouth, say experts. Still, with any type of food reaction, itís always a good idea to get a diagnosis from a board certified allergist, says the ACAAI. And be careful about trimming innocent-looking vines out of trees.

 

 





 


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