Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What is a Corn Allergy?

When people think of food allergies, they often think of peanuts.  Or possibly lactose intolerance (take a pill).  Some of the more well-educated individuals are aware of the top 8 allergens; Peanuts, Tree nuts, Shell fish, fin fish, Soy, Wheat, Dairy and Eggs. Few realize that any food can be an allergen. 

The normally thought of as 'hypoallergenic', corn is actually an increasingly common culprit of food allergy complaints.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has this to say about corn allergy:  Allergic reactions to corn are rare and a relatively small number of case reports can be found in medical literature. However, the reports do indicate that reactions to corn can be severe. Reactions to corn can occur from both raw and cooked corn. Individuals who are indeed allergic to corn may also react to corn and grass pollens. Cornstarch may also need to be avoided.  

To those of us with reactions, the story is much deeper.  While there may be individuals who react just to the raw and cooked forms of whole corn and cornmeal, but can ingest cornstarch and undefined derivatives, we began this blog for the individuals who have worked hard to fit the jigsaw pieces of their reactions together in order to finally discover the cause of consistent reactions and come up with...corn.

Like Jenny Connors, we were on our own but not alone.  The definitions and mechanics of corn mediated reactions are still blurry.  There are some who have a definitive diagnosis of corn allergy (blood work or scratch test positive); and many who have only been diagnosed through the less-comfortable elimination and blind introduction method.  Or self diagnosed based on food diaries and symptoms; and deliberate elimination diets and exposures.

A common thread among our medical and popular information sources seems to be that corn derivatives such as microcrystalline cellulose and xanthan gum should not cause any reaction, but these actually cause reactions that are very uncomfortable.  And it isn't that people with corn allergies react to just cellulose, or dextrose.  There seems to be a consistent low level reaction to just about every derivative.

The new Food Allergy Guidelines state that a Food Allergy is any adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.  (and food is defined as a substance intended to be ingested; whether in it's pure form or a processed one)  For the purpose of this blog and the associated ones, the term "corn allergy" will refer to the consistent adverse reactions experienced on exposure to any corn derivative, regardless of the presence of corn protein via food lab tests and/or measurable antibodies in the corn allergic person.  (The guidelines themselves say that diet challenge is the only definitive way to diagnose a food allergy.)

We are not doctors or medical professionals.  Just part of a small group of individuals with a common medical condition, learning from experience.  Our intent is to pool our experiences and research to protect one another, and help those just entering the world of corn-mediated reactions have a smoother transition.

I encourage our readers to find their own level of sensitivity and tolerance.

Companies who make great strides in protecting their food allergic customers have very little to go on when it comes to corn allergies.  When we make recommendations or suggest using caution, it is because multiple people (who already have reproducible reactions to confirmed corn derivatives) trace their reactions to a single product.  It doesn't mean every corn allergic individual is going to react to it, but it sure does help to know that product A has failed being safe for multiple corn allergic individuals and placed on a suspect list when you're planning a pre-graduation dinner or looking for a bite to eat before a job interview.  Hives don't make a good impression, and neither do GI reactions. 

If a product is on a suspect list but looks safe...contact the company to verify it's safety for your own tolerance level and then try it out when you don't have big plans in an hour, or the next day.  If you can enjoy it, celebrate.  And if not, at least you had a "heads up" and don't have to add humiliation to discomfort.

We may not be able to cure this condition, but we can manage it.

Good luck!!! 


Anonymous said...

I know a person that has been told they have a corn allergy/sensitivity, yet they can eat corn. How can this be? Is it the processing that is the issue, or the corn?

Anonymous said...

I havr reactions to eatting anything corn related thats processed like corn flour or corn meal I can eat can corn or corn on the cob and feel good. When I eat processed corn a hour or so afterwards the pain in my stomach is almost unbearable I have to huddle in a ball movement is agonizing when finally it all comes up its usually black n covered in mucus sorry for the description. I only developed this when I was in my mid twenties. Drs didnt have any answers, they never sent me for test, I finally figured out anything corn related was doing it.

V said...

Sweet corn that you eat is different than the corn used in processed corn products or even corn meal. Also, eating corn kernels most of what you eat isn't digested due to the protective outer shell of the kernel. Howver processed corn meal or corn flour doesn't have that protective barrier so your body gets it full force. It's not uncommon to react significantly less to eating corn kernels or sweet corn, than to corn chips. Generally though, over time of eliminating corn from your diet, you'll start to find that you are also reacting to sweet corn. It is rare if you do not at all... it's just sometimes significantly less so you may not notice it right away.

Anonymous said...

I'm allergic to sweet corn and popped corn but nothing else. It causes bloating ibs and vomiting. Is this normal?

Anonymous said...

I am severely allergic to corn meal, (sunburn-like rash, severe cramps, blood pressure drops, ears throb and close up, etc.) but can eat fresh/frozen corn, corn starch and corn syrup. I had to go to the hospital AGAIN after mistakenly eating corn meal last week. This is the first time I've actually found others who can eat some corn but not all products. Somehow that helps.

Heather Davis said...

I'm 48 and currently taking BusPar and Clonopin for anxiety issues. Recently I have noticed that eating that reduced calorie popped popcorn that comes in bags is affecting my mood/thinking and I can have an uneasy kind of drunk feeling. Very strange. Today had restaurant tortilla chips and felt the "feeling" again. So I'm guessing I either have developed an allergy to processed corn, or it's a combination of the processed corn and the meds. I guess I'll have to see when I'm off of the meds. Anyone ever had this type of reaction?

Anonymous said...

I have eliminated corn meal from my diet through trial and error. I used to be able to eat sweet corn but after eliminating corn meal, I find that even sweet corn bothers me. The recently ate grits and the pain afterwards was terrible

Anonymous said...

I can eat corn on the cob or frozen corn kernels with no problem, but always have an acute reaction to corn meal or corn flour products. My reaction is itching of palms, feet, neck, throat, reddened palms and skin, sometimes flat hives, and swollen tongue, eyelids. I am glad to see there are others who have a reaction to corn products but not corn on the cob. I have to take Benadryl and wait until it subsides....about an hour or so. I would like to know why the meal but not unprocessed corn causing problems.

Unknown said...

Hi there. Just seen you comment. Did you ever get an answer or helpful information from anybody on your question. I developed a nut allergy two years ago. Yesterday I had a reaction in exactly the same way as you describe above to the corn product. I do know reactions can spread with many things once started but up until this week corn products neber been an issue.... I presently take antihistamines everywhere with me.

Unknown said...

I can eat cornmeal but I can not eat whole kernel corn . I am tired of people tell me " just eat around it " if it's mixed into foods . Just the juice itself being in say mixed vegetables is enough to me very ill for 2 weeks. Would they tell someone with a peanut allergy just to eat around it ?
Anyway Beef has the same effect . Just wondering how many of you have these combination ? And I was able to eat corn as a kid which is weird

morgan said...

Updated link for FAAN (now FARE) quote, which has also been modified: https://www.foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies/food-allergy-essentials/common-allergens/other-food-allergens