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Food sensitivity may significantly increase risk of cardiovascular disease

A woman stares at grocery shelves stocked with chips and other snack foods
Researchers say sensitivity to certain foods may increase the risk of heart disease. Alejandro Moreno de Carlos/Stocksy
  • Researchers are reporting that people with food sensitivities had a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Experts say that changes in the gut microbiome from food sensitivity can affect a person’s cardiovascular system.
  • Food allergies are different than food sensitivities. Food allergies affect the immune system and food sensitivities involve the digestive system.  

In a new study, researchers report that people with a food sensitivity 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 the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The researchers used information from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source ) 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 over a decade to determine if food sensitivities could contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Previous studies have shown some food allergies are associated with higher risks Trusted Source AHA/ASA Journals Peer reviewed journal Go to source of heart disease, but food sensitivities (food intolerance) have not previously been identified as contributing factors to cardiovascular disease.

Details from the food sensitivities study

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

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute sponsored the MESA study to look for cardiovascular disease risk factors. Participants were 45 to 84 years of age and did not have cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. The study included evaluating the presence of IgE and its relationship to heart disease.

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

During the study period, there were 285 cardiovascular-related deaths – 229 in NHANES and 56 in MESA.

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

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

The researchers noted that the increased risk from food sensitivity could be comparable to the risks from smoking, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

How the gut microbiome may play a role

Scientists don’t yet fully understand a lot about how the different organ systems in our body overlap and how dysfunction in one might cause dysfunction in another.

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

A review of research Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source published in 2022 states that the interplay between the intestinal microbiome and the human host occurs through the interaction of dietary intake (a type of environmental exposure) with the intestinal microbiota, leading to the production of metabolites that may serve as cardiac disease boosters.

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

“There is a whole spectrum of diseases that smolder in our bodies. They may not have profound disease processes, but they can cause problems with other bodily systems,” Weinberg added. “We often look at whatever part of our body is louder and address symptoms. But we do not always look at the whole body and consider that the organ systems overlap and see if we can quiet the loud noise by addressing other areas in our body.”

The authors of the study examined this as well.

“What we looked at here was the presence of IgE antibodies to food that were detected in blood samples,” Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, a study author and an allergy and immunology expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said in a press statement. “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. 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.”

Weinberg suggests that people with food intolerances see their primary practitioner and specialists regularly to monitor symptoms and treat them when necessary. They might also benefit from seeing a nutritionist or dietician.

What to know about food sensitivities

Food sensitivity or food intolerance is often confused with food allergy.

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. Sensitivities are typically not life-threatening but can cause discomfort.

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

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping
  • 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

This article originally appeared on Medical News Today.

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