Flax Seed Allergy…what next?!?


Last weekend I was at a family gathering. Amidst all that excitement, I made a shocking discovery as I was talking to one of my cousins who is in her 50s. She mentioned that she had recently been diagnosed with severe “flax seed allergy”. Prior to that, she had no food allergies so; it had been quite a challenge for her and her allergist to zero in on the possible allergen. That is one of the difficulties of developing food allergies at a later stage in life because we have already included hundreds of food items in our diet.

With all the recent hype about the nutritive value of flax seed – it has become ubiquitous in many dishes in small amounts…yogurt, desserts, breads, pancakes, waffles, entrees, as an egg replacer and so much more. I myself add crushed flax seeds in a lot of dishes to increase its healthy fat content. This just adds to the list of unbelievable things people can be allergic to like mustard, honey dew, watermelon, banana and what next? L

No doubt that flax seed is extremely nutritious…it is high in alpha linolenic acid, a type of plant-derived omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and fiber. It has been shown to help lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) levels and may also help lower blood triglyceride and blood pressure.

However the incident with my cousin was an eye-opener for me – when we add new food items to an allergic kids list, there is nothing like being ‘too careful’. Even if something is purported to be very nutritious we cannot indiscriminately include it in the diet of a person dealing with food allergies. Also, just because a person is not allergic to something today does not mean that they will not develop a reaction to it later on in life.

47 thoughts on “Flax Seed Allergy…what next?!?

  1. I gave my son a pinch of flax seed powder when he was 14 months old and he had a terrible reaction soon after. He had projectile vomittings for 3-4 times through the night and i knew right away that he was allergic to Flax. I looked up on the internet and found that Flax allergy is pretty rare, but i guess my son is just one of the unlucky few. He is also allergic to dairy, soy, wheat and probably tree but (haven’t tested for nuts yet). I am afraid to try any new foods on him, but he is 18mo now and wants to eat everything. I appreciate the info. on your website. As a mom with a kid who has allergies, i am always looking up on the internet for allergy-free foods that provide him with the nutrition that he needs. Thank you!

  2. Hi Swathi,

    Thank you for reading my blog! My allergist tells me that allergy sufferers should always be wary of seeds 😦 I use flax seed meal to increase nutritional content of many dishes for my son who is ok with flax. However, no food is completely safe for our kids and we have to make sure that we always have benadryl and an epipen on us.
    All the best to your son.
    Regards,
    Anu

  3. After aquiring many severe abdominal allergic reactions to flax seed when I turned 40, I can attest to the fact that it is not easy to figure out, especially when it is so highly receommended as being “good” for you. I attached a little info from the may clinic. Be aware that Flax has many other names as well, or you still may be eating it:
    Alashi, alpha-linolenic acid, Barlean’s Flax Oil, Barlean’s Vita-Flax, brazen, common flax, eicosapentaenoic acid, flachssamen, flax, gamma-linolenic acid, Graine de Lin, leinsamen, hu-ma-esze, Linaceae, linen flax, lini semen, lino, lino usuale, linseed, linseed oil, lint bells, linum, Linum catharticum , Linum humile seeds, keten, omega-3 fatty acid, phytoestrogen, prebiotic bread, sufulsi, tesi-mosina, Type I Flaxseed/Flaxseed (51-55% alpha-linolenic acid), Type II Flaxseed/CDC-flaxseed (2-3% alpha-linolenic acid), winterlien.

    1. Thank-you so much for all this information. My husband was admitted in the hospital one night after I fed him some multi-grain pasta. 2 bags of demoral and 4 hours later, the doctor told us he had a “flax sensitivity”. We deduced this after reviewing what he had eaten when this had happened to him several times prior to this incident. We never know when some breads and pastas have come in contact with flax, so we just avoid all bread products or pastas altogether and choose to go the gluten free route. He has been feeling really good, so we will continue to eat a gluten free diet!

      1. Emili,
        I’m so glad to hear that you have found the information here helpful. It is so difficult to get a flax allergy diagnosis because so many doctors only know the benefits of flax and don’t look to the possibilities of allergies. I went through so many tests that turned up negative in addition to being misdiagnosed, resulting in more medical problems brought on by unnecesary medications. I only hope that this information reaches many more people who are suffering and not yet aware about this “hidden” allergy. I wish you and your husband well.
        Ali
        :o)

  4. There is one other thing I learned about flax seed that may be helpful to others. If you have ever used those microwaveable neck /back/foot, etc. wraps, be aware that many of them contain flax seeds. I found out the hard way after ordering one online and having a bad reaction to it. They didn’t list what was inside of it on their web site, so if you ever need one of them, be sure you find out what they are made of first. Good luck :o)

    1. Thank you so much – that is a goldmine of information. WHo would have thought that flax would be in a wrap?!?

      1. Sadly, when I ordered it, I had no clue. I’m glad I can help to spare someone else the misery of learning that one on their own. 😮

  5. Hi, Have a new (midlife) anaphalactic allergy to sesame and now, apparently, sensitivity to flax as well. Thanks for putting info out! Had no idea and it’s in so many “organic” products I have been eating! Not sure if it’s due to cross-contamination or flax alone. Anyone know how worried I should be about eggs, chicken, beef, etc… that may have been fed diets of flax products? Thanks!

  6. I’ve never had any issues with any of those foods, even with the flax allergy, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before you buy/eat something. better to be safe than sorry.
    Something else I had learned recently, since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, is that one of the many symptoms is food allergies. Why? Who knows? As if it weren’t bad enough to be in constant pain, you also have food sensitivity and reflux. Hopefully, your allergy is just an allergy and nothing more. Good luck!

  7. In the last several years, I’ve discovered I have a total intolerance to flax. Each time the allergic reaction is worse (approx 7 reactions – due to not knowing and – eventually – not reading ingredients carefully). The reaction is severe and occurs 2-3 hours after ingestion. It includes severe vomiting, followed by flu-like symptoms of fever & chills, continued upset digestion and exhaustion.

  8. GB,
    I know it’s a real pain to have to read everything before you eat it..but that is what you have to learn to do to avoid those violent reactions. If you haven’t sen an allergist yet, you may want to do that as well, just in case it isn’t just a flax issue. Good luck :o)

  9. I’ve just discovered I have a flax seed allergy, though I haven’t been to an allergist. Two years ago I had a reaction, and just didn’t realize it was flax seed. My doctor had me take benydryl and zantac for my reaction. What do others with a flax seed allergy do when they have a breakout?

  10. I try to avoid it all together, but if i accidentally ingest it, I head straight to the local Doc-In-The-Box for a shot of demerol and phenergan. The pain and nausea is unbearable otherwise. I have some liquid antihystamine, but I can never manage to ingest anything after the reaction starts.

  11. Glad I found your blog since I was beginning to think I was the only one allegic to flax seed.

    I finally figured out that I was allergic to flaxseed after some very scary reactions. My doctor had never heard of a flax allergy so he did a skin prick test with flax seed oil. I didn’t react. I knew I was allergic so went back in and this time we used ground up flax seed and I swelled up immediately.

    In a way I’m lucky because I can tell something has flax in it while I’m still chewing it because my throat starts to close up before I have swallowed. If I spit it out in time, I can get by with Benadryl. I am very careful with breads and granola and carry an epi-pen with me. Flax seed seems to be added to everything these days.

  12. There are probably alot more people who have this allergy and don’t even know it yet. Sadly, alot of doctors have a hard time believing that something that is supposed to be good for you can be the cause of such a bad reaction in many people.

  13. So far all I’ve had to use is the Benadryl because I’ve noticed my reaction after one bite and spit it out. If my reaction is worse, what am I supposed to do? Where do you get the epi-pen? Is it prescription? Can it be used while pregnant? Sorry for all the questions, I just want to be prepared!

    1. Cassie,
      I would “strongly’ recommend that you visit an allergist who will go over when and how to use Benadryl and EpiPen. EpiPen (Epinephrine shot) is a prescription medication. My allergist recommends the following steps in case of a severe reaction:
      1) Use EpiPen within 5 minutes if the person goes into anaphylactic shock, has difficulty breathing, mouth and tongue swells up or any other severe symptom.
      2) Call for emergency.
      3) Always carry an extra shot of EpiPen. If hospital emergency has not reached within half an hour and the reaction occurs again, give a second shot of EpiPen.
      4) EpiPen is the only way to save a person’s life if he/she has had a severe reaction to any food. So, I would think that even if a woman is pregnant, the shot will have to be given if she goes into anaphylactic shot. However, please talk to your allergist for more detailed input.
      Best wishes,
      Anu

  14. An epi-pen is prescribed by a doctor. It’s for a severe allergic reaction when you can’t breathe and could possibly die. http://www.epipen.com/ I would think that it’s not the best thing to use while pregnant but if the alternative is dying, you should use it.

  15. Hi, I was so glad to find this blog, I thought we were the only ones with this allergy. I too recently discovered that I have an allergy to Flax and had a hard time convincing my doctor of it, because of my allergy to dairy he thought it was just me not being careful, but we finally figured it out.. My son, who is also allergic to treenuts/almonds, is also allergic to flax. It is very frustrating that it is added to almost all grain products now and I just gave up buying them and now make my own bread, granola etc. There are lots of cereals with it added as well so we just stick to old fashioned oatmeal and Cheerios.

    1. Hi Cat,
      Thanks for visiting AllergyFoodie. It must be quite time consumng to make your own bread etc. and I commend you for going that route rather than giving up.
      Best wishes,
      Anu

  16. Hi, I have just recently discovered that I am also allergic to flax seed. I have never even heard of such thing, but noticed that after eating my yogurt with flax seed for breakfast, I would get the same symptoms as if I ate nuts or gluten. I am allergic to both. I know that there could not be cross contamination, because I bought the organic seeds whole and ground them myself at home.
    Thanks for all the valuable information!

  17. I had a scary experience today! I just found out my cholesterol was high. (It’s always been really good before this.)

    The nurse who called told me the doctor said to eat less fat and exercise more. Since I’m a vegan and eat very little processed food, I have hardly any “bad fat” in my diet and while I certainly could (and should) do better on exercising, I would say I’m probably in the top third of women my age when it comes to being in shape. So I felt the high cholesterol had to come from something other than a bad diet and no exercise.

    Since my mom had a stroke a couple years ago, I was particularly concerned about high cholesterol since it can lead to strokes. So I got on the internet, talked to a colleague, and went to the library and got books.

    My colleague (who also tries to live healthfully) has struggled with high cholesterol for years. She mentioned that she took high doses of flax seed, fish oil, and niacin. I had already been taking flaxseed oil capsules (1,000 mg) for some time, but she said she took 4,000 of that and fish oil. When I was at the store to pick up the fish oil capsules I saw niacin there and picked it up as well.

    This morning I fixed my multi–grain cereal and added lots of nuts, fruits, and seeds. Just for good measure I poured flaxseed meal on it. As I was finished my breakfast I noticed my throat was starting to close up and I was beginning to flush. I went into the bathroom and my face was literally scarlet.

    I had had a similar (but not as intense) incident with flaxseed about four years ago, but it had passed in a few minutes. However, I did not use flaxseed for a LONG time after that first reaction and only within the last year have been taking a daily flaxseed oil capsule and eating a flaxseed cereal with no ill effects. I had even put flaxseed meal in my granola without a reaction. So I didn’t think anything about using it today. I just though I was doing everything I could to lower that cholesterol.

    My reaction finally got so bad (I had heat wave after heat wave and my whole body was scarlet) that I decided I should go to the emergency room and check things out. I chose not to call 911 because at the time I didn’t think it was THAT serious–plus the paramedics had taken a good 15 minutes to get to our house when my mom had her stroke there and I could get to the hospital in that time.

    On my way there I got where I could hardly breathe so I called 911. The dispatcher really wanted me to pull over and wait for an ambulance, but I thought I could make it to the hospital by the time they got there–besides saving my share of the transfer fee.

    I’ll have to say, I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital. The reaction kept coming in waves. The 911 man was so nice and wanted to keep me on the phone until I got there. (Obviously I made it!!)

    When I finally stumbled into the ER, they hurriedly tried to get IV’s and oxygen in–although admitting did scold me for driving myself in. All this time I was certain it was a flax seed reaction that was causing all this.

    We finally figured out it was probably the niacin as the primary trigger since my symptoms were a classic niacin reaction. However, after reading these posts I think it was a combination of using that and the flaxseed meal–which had caused the reaction the last time. (That closing of the breath caused my shortness of breath no doubt.)

    I tell you this whole thing was one scary experience. I literally was shaking in the ER as if I was having seizures. My teeth were chattering–it was just awful. After about an hour everything went back to normal since they had flushed it out of my system.

    I threw the niacin away! (Worse $1.96 I every spent!) The ironic thing about it is that I have been taking niacin in my multi-vitamin for the past year with no effects. (I didn’t realize it had it until I checked the ingredients when I got back from the ER.) But I think the extra 100 mg
    plus the flax seed meal plus the flaxseed capsule was what did it.

    You can believe after all this I will not even take my multi-vitamin or the flax seed oil capsule until I check with my doctor on Monday. (Flax seed meal is also OUT for life even though the ER doctor thought I could keep taking it!)

    At first I was going to take 3 capsules of the flax seed oil this morning (I’d been taking one) but thank goodness I decided to follow the directions which said 2-3 times a day with a meal. I might not be here to tell the story if I had!! (Naturally I did not take the other pills with lunch or supper!!)

    Check with the doctor even on supplements–that’s been the lesson learned today for sure!

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Firstly – I must apologize for such a delayed response. With my exams around the corner and an energetic 5 year old, my blog has seen neglect for the past 3 weeks.
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and sharing your experience with us. You seem to be an amazingly strong woman and just reading your reply makes me feel motivated 🙂 Would you mind if I post your reply as an article by you? I want more people to know that allergy sufferers have to be watchful every step of the way.

      Best wishes,
      Anu

    2. You just had a normal flushing reaction to Niacin… If you’ve been eating flaxseed cereal for a year prior to this, then my best guess is that you weren’t having a reaction to the flax. I know everyone’ reaction is different, but for me… I cannot even eat ONE seed without going into a fit of projectile vomiting for at least the next 2-8 hours… I don’t get the swelling in the throat as some do… so it COULD have been the flax… but doubtfully.

      There are two types of Niacin sold in stores… the flushing kind and the non-flushing kind… You’ll see “no flush” on the bottle of the non-flushing kind. Most multi-vitamins contain that one because you don’t get the redness and the tingling hot skin… If you took 500mg of Niacin everyday, the reaction would slowing diminish to a quick one minute flush if any at all as your body got used to it… Niacin is just a B vitamin… it’s water soluble and very difficult to get too much. I wouldn’t stay away from Niacin as it is VERY good for your heart and circulation… I would just start with a very low mg. And definitely check with your doctor before making any changes to your vitamin regime. You are technically supposed to inform them on any new supplements added to your diet, most people don’t know that. Good luck.

  18. I am one of those people with the rare flax allergy. I discovered it the hard way, after eating bread made from flour with ground flax seed. I’ve had a few accidental exposures since then, causing terrible stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives in the mouth and extreme fatigue.

    I was tested by an allergist and he confirmed that I have a severe allergy to flax. I am supposed to carry an Epi-Pen with me in case I should accidentally ingest flax. I also have a supply of Benadryl at home to alleviate the symptoms if the exposure is small.

    I’ve learned to read labels on every baked good… bread, buns, crackers, etc. Often the words “Omega-3” or “multi-grain” are a red flag, as they can indicate the presence of flax. I’ve even seen flax seed oil in juice and milk!

  19. YAY I’m not alone!! I discovered my allergy to flax in high school after eating a friend’s homemade granola mixture. At the time, my mother and I had no idea what was in the granola that made me have a reaction. I had always been able to eat multigrain bread and such with no problems. After having a severe reaction to eating a plate of multi-grain pasta, we realized that it must be the flax. To be honest, I thought the allergist thought we were crazy that we were coming in due to a flax seed allergy, but he sure did change his mind after seeing the quick reaction I had to him putting a flax concoction on my forearm. Ever since then, I have been diligent about reading all of the labels on any breads, crackers, cereals, granola, etc that my husband and I buy. I now even check dairy products after realizing that a tub of butter in my mother’s fridge contained flax oil. The fact that flax seed has become such a health topic, I feel like it’s only going to get worse from here…soon I will only feel ok with eating fruits and veggies.

    My reactions are really severe…I know something has flaxseed in it as soon as the first swallow. My throat closes up and I always vomit.

    I’m so glad that Ali posted a list of common names for flax….I never knew about these!! Thanks!!

    1. Hi Katrice,
      Thanks for visiting AllergyFoodie. Glad to know that Ali’s article was useful. Thanks Ali 🙂
      I had read an article a while back about how the incidence of a certain food allergy seems to be directly proportional to the usage in that community. For example, buckwheat allergy is far more prevalent in Japan where it is used extensively than in the US where it is hardly used. Looks like flax seed allergy is on the rise in the US as the usage is increasing.
      Best wishes,
      Anu

  20. Katrice,
    I’m glad you were able to discover your flax allergy when you did, and I’m glad that the information I posted has been helpful. Sometimes you just have to keep digging to come up with answers, even when people think you’re crazy. I only hope that we can reach those people who still don’t even know that the possibility of a flax allergy is very real, especially if they are suffering and have no idea what is happening.

  21. It’s so nice that we’ve all found each other.

    One of the times I was tested for flax allergy, the doctor used flax seed oil and I didn’t react to that at all. We thought it might be similar to those with peanut allergies who are able to eat foods fried in peanut oil.

    1. Hi Beth,
      Thanks for visiting AllergyFoodie and am glad that the community has offered you strength.
      Thanks for bringing up the topic about oils. I will post a detailed article soon about why sometimes people dont react to oils even though they may be allergic to the source of the oil. For example, my son is allergic to soy but is okay with soybean oil. One of the factors is that oil is basically fat. People usually react to the proteins in a food rather than the fat. Also, there is a difference between cold-pressed and hot-pressed oil which is basically the way oil is extracted. In cold-pressed oil, trace amounts of the source remains. Hence, if a person is allergic to sesame, they should avoid sesame oil too because this oil is a cold-pressed.
      Best wishes,
      Anu

  22. Beth,
    I’m glad that you brought up the subject of the oil vs. nut/seed. I wasn’t nearly as ill when I was taking the flax seed oil capsules, but anytime the actual seed was ingested, the flood gates were opened.
    Anu, I look forward to reading more about that subject when you post it.

  23. For years I suffered with what I call toxic waste. After talking to an allergist, [What are you aking all that flax seed for?]I stopped the flax and all my other allergies disappeared. Six years of needless suffering.

  24. Lorna, I’m sorry to hear that you suffered so unnecessarily. It’s good of you to share your experience. I’m glad that you are better now.

  25. Hello, I have also been on this terrible journey for about a year now. Everytime that I would have a bread, even a pretzel, (that I purchased at a flea market that was stuffed with cheese that was brushed with an oil that had flaxseed in it ) granola bars, cereal with Flax seed in it I would have a terrible reaction. I would first have a really itchy throat, tongue and then after about 45 minutes or so, severe diarreha, and vomiting end to end for an entire day. I have to be so careful now and read every label and when we are eating out make sure that nothing has flaxseed in it. Please take charge of your health and make notes when something you have ate does not agree with you. Thanks for all of the info.

  26. Appreciative of your blog.Hoping that you could assist me in finding a possible connection between Flax allergy and prostrate problems.I have found that urination is quite difficult after ingesting
    pumpkin seeds or pistacho nuts and humous.Do you have any information that might suggest that Flax
    seeds have or could have a similiar reaction Thank you for your response.
    Min Amlak

    1. Hi Gabree,
      Thanks for visiting Allergy Foodie. I dont know much about prostrate problems so, I dont want to hazard an answer because it could be errorneous. Wishing you the very best in trying to figure out if there is a connection between flax and prostrate issues. Do let us know if you find anything about it so it can be useful to others who may have a similar question.
      Thank you,
      Anu

  27. I realized I was allergice to flax seed about 3 or so years ago. I was eating a cliffbar and got very sick, symptons included: funny taste in my mouth, itchy throat AND ears, followed by sharp pains in my stomach, headache and later it felts almost like food poisoning. Vomiting and sever stomach cramps and diarrhea. After a few hours the symptons passed and i didnt think much of it. However i later tried a multigrain cereal sample and had the same reaction. At this point i tried to stay away from anything ‘whole’ grain or products that looked like their where alot of nuts. Of course after a few more incidents i gave up and went to the doctor to find out that i am allergic to flaxseed in all forms.
    It seems that their are alot of benefits to having flaxseed in your diet, i get the weird look when i do order something that could possible have flaxssed in it, the people are usually not sure or i am being incredible picky. Once i tell them i am allergic they are more prone to check.

    Of all the things to be allergic too!!!

  28. I have landed in Intensive Care because of severe anaphylaxis from eating flax seed (which was recommended for its health benefits by one of my doctors) and a couple of years before that, I was rushed to Intensive Care with anaphylaxis due to eating blackberries. I have found that I can eat one or two blackberries now without dying, but I have to be very careful. I need to avoid flax seed permanently in any amount. Once when I was at a New Year’s Eve party I was eating a piece of fruit, and it landed on the lid of an opened peanut butter jar. I picked up the fruit and resumed eating it. Moments later, the hostess asked me in alarm, “Why is your face so red?” I started wheezing and almost passed out. It turned out that the peanut butter contained flax seed, and the tiny trace of it that was on the inside of the lid and had transferred to my piece of fruit almost killed me.

    A question I have is that a person mentioned (on this thread) that the microwaveable wraps containing flax seed can make an allergic person sick. In what ways does this type of illness manifest itself? A rash? Or anaphylaxis?

  29. Hey! This is myy first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new
    project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have one
    a extraordinary job!

  30. I am so glad to have found all these comments, I thought I was the only one! My problem started in my late 40’s, was never allergic to any foods. Multi-grain things started to make me sick. My first experience was a Clifbar, burning in throat initially, then severe nausea and stomach pains, and eventually violent vomiting. (I was driving home to PA from NH at night, so it made for an excruciating experience….had to pull off the road to vomit). I have had the same experiences, with diarrhea added as well, from multi-grain breads & pastas. I’ve tracked ingredients when I have access to a label, and the only common ingredient I have found is flax seed. But I have read that an allergy to Flax seed is “rare”, so I had doubts. Now I know that Flax seed is indeed the culprit. Thanks to everyone for sharing!

  31. I too was hospitalized with severe anaphylaxis due to the health effects of flax seed. I had not known that flax is the same as linseed, a common livestock food and wood preservative in the Western US during the 50’s and 60’s. Since I am allergic to everything else from my childhood, I would have known not to try flax. Flax seed allergy was rare prior to now, since it was only used as livestock food. Demand labeling and be very careful with those “healthy” whole grain foods.
    BTW I breastfed my potentially sensitive children longer than usual. The first one, who started cereals earlier, as my mom insisted, has the worst allergies. Second child with less early exposure has fewer and the last child who was breast fed longest (years– yes hippie moms) has the least allergic problems.

    1. I too developed a flax allergy in my 40s. I did a project with a friend making eye pillows from flax and noticed when I worked with it the dust made me have asthma type symptoms. My first food encounter that I can track was a cough but after that it has pretty much been stomach symptoms as described above. I read labels when available and when they are not I avoid food that traditionally may contain flax. Anyway over the past 10 years I have been able to determine when something has flax because it actually causes my mouth to burn. The problem now is that many foods (especially breads and pastas) contain some flax and may be on the label as “may contain”. It’s usually a very small amount. Although these don’t cause the mouth burn, they still make me sick. Chic-fil-a has it in the wraps, grilled sandwich roll and oatmeal for instance. Be careful, as the benefits of flax become more popular the foods we can eat decrease.

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