Food Allergies and Cardiovascular Death – A Hidden Threat
Recent research from UVA Health scientists suggests that sensitivity to common food allergens, such as dairy and peanuts, may pose a previously underestimated risk of heart disease. Strikingly, this increased cardiovascular risk extends beyond individuals with apparent food allergies and could rival or even surpass the risks associated with smoking, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The comprehensive study, examining thousands of adults over time, reveals that individuals producing antibodies in response to dairy and other foods face an elevated risk of cardiovascular-related death. Notably, this risk persists even when accounting for traditional heart disease risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Cow’s milk emerges as the strongest link, but other allergens like peanuts and shrimp also show significant associations.
This groundbreaking finding marks the first time that “IgE” antibodies to common foods have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality. While the study doesn’t definitively establish causation, it builds upon prior research connecting allergic inflammation and heart disease.
IgE Antibodies and Cardiovascular Mortality – Unraveling the Mystery
Approximately 15% of adults produce IgE antibodies in response to common foods, including cow’s milk and peanuts. Intriguingly, while these antibodies induce severe food allergies in some individuals, many adults producing them exhibit no obvious allergic reactions. The research indicates that the most robust link with cardiovascular death exists in individuals with IgE antibodies who continue regular food consumption, suggesting an absence of severe food allergy.
Lead researcher Jeffrey Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., an allergy and immunology expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, emphasizes the study’s focus on the presence of IgE antibodies to food detected in blood samples. The subjects likely did not have overt food allergies, making the study more about a silent immune response to food. Though these responses may not be potent enough to cause acute allergic reactions, they might contribute to inflammation, potentially leading to long-term problems like heart disease.
Unexpected Food Allergy Findings and Future Implications
The research journey began with the UVA team’s investigation into an unusual tick-borne food allergy linked to heart disease. This allergy, transmitted by lone star ticks, sensitizes individuals to a sugar called alpha-gal found in mammalian meat. Known as “alpha-gal syndrome,” this allergy can cause severe symptoms, including anaphylaxis, hours after consuming beef or pork.
To explore the broader impact of food allergies on heart health, the team, including Wilson and collaborators, reviewed data from participants in the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Notably, IgE antibodies to at least one food were associated with a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular death, particularly for those sensitive to milk. Additional analysis identified peanut and shrimp sensitization as significant risk factors for cardiovascular death in those who routinely consumed these foods.
The study sheds light on a surprising and previously unexplored link between allergic antibodies to food allergens and heart disease. As research in this area unfolds, it opens new avenues for understanding the intricate relationship between common food allergies and cardiovascular health. In some ways, this revelation challenges conventional wisdom, highlighting the need for further exploration into this complex interplay.