Hidden Food Sensitivities May Boost Heart Disease Risk: Study

Undetected food reactions could be secretly heightening your heart disease risk.
Hidden Food Sensitivities May Boost Heart Disease Risk: Study
Sheramy Tsai
Recent findings reveal that undetected food sensitivities, often to everyday items like milk and peanuts, could be quietly escalating the risk of heart disease.

How Everyday Foods May Impact Heart Health

A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology establishes a connection between sensitivity to common food allergens and a higher risk of heart disease-related deaths. By examining data from previous studies involving over 5,300 participants, researchers identified specific antibodies that may elevate the risk of cardiac issues, offering new insights into the influence of immune responses to everyday foods on heart health.
As key players in the body’s immune system, immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies are produced in response to allergens, often food-based ones like eggs and shellfish. The severity of an IgE-triggered allergic reaction can range from minor symptoms, such as itching, to severe, potentially fatal respiratory complications.

The study, however, adds a novel layer to understanding IgE. It suggests that even individuals without severe allergic symptoms—but who have IgE antibodies—may face a heightened risk of heart issues, especially when they continue to consume allergenic foods. This revelation challenges the conventional belief that IgE’s function is limited to managing allergic reactions, underscoring its possible association with heart health.

Researchers found a higher chance of cardiovascular death in individuals with antibodies against foods like dairy, shrimp, peanuts, and eggs. This risk persists even when accounting for traditional heart disease factors such as smoking and diabetes. The risk was particularly evident in individuals with sensitivities to cow’s milk, though significant risks were also associated with other allergens.

Approximately 15 percent of adults have IgE responses to these common food allergens.

“While these responses may not be strong enough to cause acute allergic reactions to food, they might nonetheless cause inflammation and over time lead to problems like heart disease,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, an allergy and immunology expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in a press release.

Researchers hypothesize that IgE antibodies could activate mast cells within the cardiovascular system. These cells, usually involved in allergic responses in the skin and digestive tract, are also found in the heart and blood vessels. Activating these mast cells may lead to inflammation and plaque accumulation, thus increasing the risk of heart-related complications. However, genetic and environmental factors must also be considered.

Allergy or Sensitivity: What’s the Difference?

Allergies and sensitivities are often confused, yet they have distinct characteristics and health implications. Allergies, known for causing immediate and potentially life-threatening immune responses, are typically linked to IgE antibodies. On the other hand, sensitivities manifest as subtler, delayed symptoms like digestive problems or skin irritations without triggering immediate immune responses.
A classic example of this distinction is lactose intolerance, a sensitivity that predominantly results in digestive discomfort. In contrast, a milk allergy can prompt severe reactions, such as hives or even anaphylaxis.

Addressing common misconceptions, Dr. Wilson told The Epoch Times: “Perhaps nine out of 10 people with detectable food IgE in their blood can tolerate these foods without obvious allergic reactions.”

Dr. Corinne Keet, lead author of the study, further elucidated the intricate differences between food allergies and sensitivities. She pointed out that a true food allergy involves not just IgE antibodies but also consistent symptoms post-consumption. Food sensitivities, however, are a different ballgame.

“To make matters even more confusing, people can have food sensitivities, meaning they have symptoms from foods, for lots of different reasons, including things like lactose intolerance, which have nothing to do with IgE or allergy,” Dr. Keet explained to The Epoch Times.

While allergies often require complete avoidance of triggers, sensitivities might be more manageable. However, the research suggests that even “silent” sensitivities can pose significant health risks, such as increased cardiovascular threats, challenging the notion that they are less severe than allergies.

The Future of IgE Research

Dr. Wilson, speaking to The Epoch Times, voiced a measured stance on the recent research findings: “We think that our findings are provocative and suggest that food IgE testing could indeed be useful for these purposes, but it is too early to say that with certainty.” This caution is echoed by the research team, who stress the importance of further studies before advocating for widespread IgE screening.
Common culprits to food sensitivity extend beyond milk, eggs, peanuts, and shrimp to wheat, nuts, sesame, soy, and seafood. Given the individual nature of food sensitivities, dietitians or doctors may use an elimination diet and close monitoring of symptoms to identify and manage these triggers.
While Dr. Keet addressed the existing knowledge gap regarding natural methods to lower IgE levels in food sensitivities and allergies directly, emerging research points to the potential impact of lifestyle modifications. Studies suggest that incorporating an antioxidant-rich diet could naturally influence IgE levels. Additionally, the exploration of probiotics, supplements, and other immune-modulating strategies marks a promising avenue for future investigation.

Echoing this focus on dietary influence, chiropractic physician Dr. Daniel Cardellichio, specializing in functional health, reinforces the significance of food sensitivities in metabolic diseases and their progression to more serious conditions. “In my practice, I’ve observed a clear link between food sensitivities and the onset of metabolic diseases, which often escalates to heart disease,” he told The Epoch Times.

Dr. Cardellichio champions the importance of testing for food sensitivities as a preventive measure in health care. Furthermore, he supports the growing medical consensus on the effectiveness of dietary interventions. He specifically advocates for an anti-inflammatory diet as a natural approach to reduce IgE levels, a critical factor in allergic responses. His viewpoint underscores the crucial role of diet in managing chronic inflammation and maintaining heart health, highlighting the need for tailored nutritional strategies in medical care.

Sheramy Tsai, BSN, RN, is a seasoned nurse with a decade-long writing career. An alum of Middlebury College and Johns Hopkins, Tsai combines her writing and nursing expertise to deliver impactful content. Living in Vermont, she balances her professional life with sustainable living and raising three children.