How food sensitivities can increase risk

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Researchers say sensitivities to certain foods can increase the risk of heart disease. Alejandro Moreno de Carlos/Stoxy
  • The researchers reported that people with food sensitivities had a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Experts say changes in the gut microbiome from food sensitivities can affect a person’s cardiovascular system.
  • Food allergies are different from food sensitivities. Food allergies affect the immune system, and food sensitivities involve the digestive system.

In a new study, researchers report that people with food sensitivities to cow’s milk (lactose intolerance) and other common food allergens may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

They published their findings today in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The researchers used information from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) to reach their conclusions.

A total of 5,374 participants—4,414 from NHANES and 960 from MESA—were followed by researchers for more than a decade to determine whether food sensitivities could contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Previous studies have shown that some food allergies are associated with higher risks of heart disease, but food sensitivities (food intolerances) have not previously been identified as contributing factors to cardiovascular disease.

The NHANES survey was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using questionnaires and laboratory tests. Participants were 20 years of age and older and were tested for IgE antibodies at baseline.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sponsors the MESA study to look for risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The participants ranged in age from 45 to 84 and had no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. The study included an assessment of the presence of IgE and its association with heart disease.

IgE measures food sensitivities and allergies to cow’s milk, as well as eggs, peanuts, shrimp, alpha-gal, mites and timothy.

During the study period, there were 285 deaths related to cardiovascular disease—229 in NHANES and 56 in MESA.

Sensitivity to at least one food was significantly associated with cardiovascular mortality.

The researchers reported that cow’s milk had the most significant association. One reason may be that most people consume cow’s milk in larger amounts in their daily diet.

The researchers note that the increased risk of food sensitivities may be comparable to the risks of smoking, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists still don’t fully understand much about how different organ systems in our body overlap and how dysfunction in one can cause dysfunction in another.

Research on how the gut microbiome affects heart health has only been published in recent years.

A review of research published in 2022 stated that the interaction between the gut microbiome and the human host occurs through the interaction of dietary intake (a type of environmental exposure) with the gut microbiota, resulting in the production of metabolites that may serve as heart disease promoters .

“We know that food allergies can trigger inflammatory responses in the gut, which increases heart disease,” said Dr. Nicole Weinberg, a cardiologist at Providence St. John’s Health Center in California, who was not involved in the study. Medical News Today. “It’s possible that food sensitivities also cause inflammation, but at a lower level.”

“There’s a whole spectrum of diseases that fester in our bodies. They may not have deep disease processes, but they can cause problems with other body systems,” Weinberg added. “We often look at which part of our body is noisier and pay attention to the symptoms. But we don’t always look at the whole body and think of overlapping organ systems and see if we can drown out the loud noise by addressing other areas in our body.

The authors of the study checked this as well.

“What we looked at here was the presence of IgE antibodies to a food that were found in blood samples,” Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, study author and expert in allergy and immunology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said in a press release . . “We don’t think most of these subjects actually had an overt food allergy; thus our story is more about an otherwise silent immune response to food. Although these reactions may not be severe enough to cause acute allergic reactions to a food, they can still cause inflammation and over time lead to problems such as heart disease.

Weinberg suggests that people with food intolerances see their primary care physician and specialists regularly to monitor symptoms and treat them when needed. They may also benefit from a review by a nutritionist or dietitian.

Food sensitivities or food intolerances are often confused with food allergies.

The critical difference is that an allergy involves the immune system. In contrast, sensitivities involve the digestive system, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Another important distinction is that allergies can be life-threatening if the person has a reaction called anaphylaxis. The sensitivity is usually not life-threatening, but it can cause discomfort.

Food intolerance is when the body cannot properly break down and digest food. Some symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • Spasms
  • constipation

Some of the common foods that cause intolerance include:

  • Dairy products
  • Gluten
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • tomatoes
  • eggs
  • strawberries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Wine
  • Food additives and flavor enhancers

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