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Sugar 'n' Spice Not Always Nice

THURSDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Spice allergy affects up to 3 percent of people and can seriously restrict their everyday activities, an expert says.

Spices are one of the most widely used products and are found in foods, cosmetics and dental products. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate spices, they often are not listed on food labels and are therefore difficult to identify and avoid.

Spice allergy is responsible for 2 percent of food allergies, but is under-diagnosed because there are not reliable allergy skin tests or blood tests, according to information presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Anaheim, Calif.

"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," Dr. Sami Bahna, former president of the college, said in a college news release. "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."

In his presentation, Bahna noted that women are more likely to develop a spice allergy because spices are widely used in cosmetics. Makeup, body oils, toothpaste and fragrances can all include one or more spices.

Spice allergy triggers can include cinnamon, garlic, black pepper and vanilla. Some spice blends contain anywhere from three to 18 spices, and the hotter the spice, the greater the risk for an allergy.

"Boiling, roasting, frying and other forms of applying heat to spices may reduce allergy-causing agents, but can also enhance them depending on the spice," Bahna said. "Because of this allergy's complexity, allergists often recommend a treatment plan that includes strict avoidance, which can be a major task."

Spice allergy should be suspected in people who have multiple reactions to unrelated foods or in those who react to commercially prepared foods but not foods made at home, Bahna said. Symptoms of spice allergy range from mild sneezing to a life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about food allergy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, news release, Nov. 8, 2012

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