Food Allergies Might Pose 'Silent' Threat to the Heart

By   |  November 14, 2023

By Ernie Mundell HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2023 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Nov. 13, 2023 -- In an unexpected finding, new research suggests that antibodies arising from common food allergies may also raise risks for heart trouble.

These IgE antibodies didn't even have to be present in quantities high enough to produce an actual food allergy to have this unhealthy effect on the heart, noted a team from the University of Virginia Health (UVA) System, in Charlottesville.

“What we looked at here was the presence of IgE antibodies to food that were detected in blood samples,” researcher Dr. Jeffrey Wilson said in a UVA news release. "We don’t think most of these subjects actually had 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," said Wilson, an allergy and immunology expert at the UVA School of Medicine.

All of this could mean trouble for a large swath of the population: According to the researchers, about 15% of adults produce IgE antibodies in response to cow’s milk, peanuts and other foods.

Not everyone who produces the antibodies will have a symptomatic food allergy, however.

In their research, Wilson's team collected data on almost 5,400 participants involved in either a national U.S. health databank or a study of heart disease centered in Wake Forest, N.C. In total, 285 of the participants from both datasets died from heart disease.

In the larger national study, "IgE antibodies to at least one food was associated with a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular death," the researchers said.

The presence of milk allergy antibodies seemed to have the strongest link to cardiac death, the team found, although antibodies linked to peanut and shrimp allergies were also connected.

The UVA team stressed that the link between heart health and allergen antibodies was strongest among people who showed no obvious signs of a food allergy.

The findings were published Nov. 9 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Right now, Wilson's team only has theories about the allergen-heart link. Allergic antibodies could help trigger the activity of certain cells called mast cells, for example. Mast cells are present in the skin and gut, and can cause allergic reactions there. But they are also located in blood vessels and cardiac tissue, Wilson's team noted.

As-yet-unknown genetic or environmental factors might also explain the link. Much more study is needed, the researchers said, but these new insights into allergens and the heart could end up helping patients.

“This work raises the possibility that in the future a blood test could help provide personalized information about a heart-healthy diet,” Wilson explained. “Though before that could be recommended, we still have a lot of work to do understand these findings.”

More information:

Find out more about food allergies at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

SOURCE: University of Virginia Health System, news release, Nov. 9, 2023