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Allergies to 'spices' affect millions of Americans, but often go largely undiagnosed

Sunday, November 18, 2012 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: allergies, spices, skin tests

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(NaturalNews) If you have one, chances are you are unaware of it, or at least largely unsure about its precise cause. But believe it or not, allergies to common spices such as garlic, cinnamon, or onion powder afflict millions of Americans, many of whom recognize that certain foods upset their digestive tracts or cause them to have some other type of reaction, and yet cannot pinpoint the exact culprit.

This is because spices and spice ingredients quietly plague all sorts of food products and personal care products, including makeup, perfumes, and lotions, to which the public is oblivious. And because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate their use, spices do not legally have to be labeled the same way other ingredients are on product labels, which makes them even harder to track.

In a best case scenario, a food or personal care product manufacturer will ambiguously list "spices" on the ingredient label. In a worst case scenario, the proprietary blend will not be indicated at all. And in either case, individuals with spice allergies, which represent between two to three percent of the overall population, are forced to avoid the product just to be safe.

"While spice allergy seems to be rare, 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 Dr. Sami Bahna, M.D., an allergist and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Dr. Bahna recently talked about the increasing prevalence of spice allergies at the recent ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting in Anaheim, California.

"Patients with spice allergy often have to go through extreme measures to avoid the allergen. This can lead to strict dietary avoidance, low quality of life and sometimes malnutrition."

Allergy skin tests don't always work for people with spice allergies

For many people with common allergies, a simple allergy skin test is all it takes to determine whether or not a food or additive causes an allergic reaction. But this method is not always reliable for spices, many of which cause internal allergic reactions such as hives on the lining of the esophagus. And for many others, spice allergies may not even immediately manifest as any sort of reaction at all, which only complicates the problem further.

"When he has chicken at home, he's fine. But when he has a certain chicken dish at a restaurant, he has trouble," added Dr. Bahna about the many spice allergy patients who experience inconsistent reactions to the same food in different scenarios. The culprit in this hypothetical case is an unidentified spice that lurks in the chicken rub used at a restaurant, which is proprietary ingredient information.

At this point, the only real solution for people with spice allergies is to basically avoid eating out; limit exposure to air fresheners, toothpastes, herbal teas, and other products that contain spice blends; and live in a sanitized environment at home where food has to be prepared in isolation to avoid contamination. For those with an understanding of their particular spice allergy, customizing a life management plan with a trustworthy allergist is also an option.

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