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Name: Corinne A.
Status: Educator
Age: 40s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: September 2002

Why do certain foods cause the body to release histamines and how do we ascertain which foods cause this to happen?

Food allergies are often very specific to individuals. For example, specific nuts or shell fish can cause the body to over-react and flood the body with histamines. Histamine release is a body's protective measure; however, in the case of allergies the body does not know when to stop and hives, asthma, or life-threatening anaphylactic shock can ensue. Why certain people are allergic to certain foods, I don't think is known. The way allergists determine which foods are involved is to make a light scratch on the arm and/or back with an extract of the test substance and note the severity of the body's reaction -- redness and/or hive formation. Avoiding the offending substance and de-sensitization by starting a regimen of injections of very low levels of the offending substance can help the body's immune system to not over react to the substance. The success of this treatment is very individualistic. It is also worth noting that the scratch testing shows both positive and negative responses, that is, the scratch test may show the person is allergic to something that has no effect when the substance is consumed. Likewise, a person may show a negative scratch test to a substance that has severe reactions when consumed.

Vince Calder

Allergic reaction...Mast cells bind IgE antibodies that are elicited after the person is exposed to the allergen (something foreign to the body to which the body has produced antibodies). The IgE causes the Mast cells to release their granules of histamine...causing leakage of fluid into the spaces between the cells causing tissue swelling. The only sure way to know is to test a small amount on the person...usually on their skin.

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Science Education
Office of Science
Department of Energy

The problem with this question is that different people have different reactions to certain foods. Histamines are an immune response and people who are allergic to certain foods find their bodies attacking the foreign invader even if it is normally not associated with danger. Cat and dog dander is no different. Antihistamines counter these events, and a doctor should be consulted in any event.

Steve Sample

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