Allergy Foodie is so excited to have its first reader contribution – thank you Ali! I wrote an article about flax seed allergy a few months back and since then Ali has helped me answer the many questions other readers have had about this uncommon allergy. But for her I would have never known that microwaveable neck /back/foot wraps may contain flax seeds and cause a reaction in those people who are severely allergic to flax seed. Her input has been so invaluable that I requested her to write a guest post about flax seed allergy. What follows is her personal journey – the symptoms, the many missteps towards isolating the food that caused her allergic reaction, online resources and much more.
April of 2004 was my first encounter with (what would take nearly a year to discover) a severe food allergy. Back then, I actually thought that it was food poisoning and didn’t give it much credence.
At the time, I was in excellent shape, working at a women’s fitness center and trying to eat healthier. I would suffer from hideous menstrual cramps but didn’t like to take anti-inflammatories because they would wreak havoc on my stomach. Someone had told me that flax seed oil was a natural anti-inflammatory, and also had other health benefits, so I decided to try it. The problems to come weren’t immediately noticeable because I didn’t take the capsules all the time. However, I did observe that I would get nauseous for some unknown reason and but wrote it off as being related to having my periods. Then all of a sudden I started to get really sick after eating certain foods. I would get extremely nauseous and have violent pain in my stomach like a knife stabbing my gut and twisting. I was never able to throw up and had to take many trips to the emergency room, but each time, they said they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. When they asked me to describe the pain, I kept telling them that it felt as though I was being poisoned. I went to a gastroenterologist to have an endoscopy, among other tests, but again, he found nothing wrong. He then sent me to another GI specialist. The specialist said it looked as if I had idiopathic gastroparesis (http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gastroparesis/), a serious stomach disorder. After seeing another specialist in Philadelphia, and then a surgeon, they suggested that I have a stomach pacer put in. At this point in time, I weighed only 104 lbs and looked anorexic because I had become fearful of eating anything that might make me sick and would send me to the ER. Thankfully, I had subscribed to a support group on line and after reading the stories from the other members; I insisted that this was not the disorder that I had, so I refused to let them perform the surgery.
When I got violently sick one day after having lunch at work which resulted in having to go to the ER yet again, I called the restaurant from which our lunch had come from. I knew that the salad could not have been the source of the problem, and, at this point, I already had my suspicions about flax seed. However, every doctor I would bring up the flax seed issue with would just wave me off and say they didn’t think that could be the cause. I don’t think any of them believed that something that is normally so good for you could be causing all of this pain. When the restaurant returned my phone call, and confirmed my suspicions about what was in the roll that their employee had originally told me was whole wheat, I knew I had found the source of my problems. The roll, as it turned out, was whole grain, and it did indeed contain flax seed. I went back in my head and thought of everything that had ever made me sick, and, one by one, the answer s led back to the same component – “flax seed”. My trips to the ER were caused by: a granola sample in Costco that stopped me in my tracks, when, within seconds of eating it, I got that strange metallic taste in my mouth; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had made on 7 grain bread, instead of my usual white bread; the finger sandwiches at mom’s birthday party made of whole grain bread; the whole grain pretzels, the flat bread sandwich and so on…
When I finally went to an allergist, she confirmed it, and I was more than happy to go to my other doctors and tell them “I told you so!”. As a result, now, I have to read everything before I eat it, and if there are no listed ingredients available, I don’t eat it. There is a lot more to this story besides the pain and the year it took to discover my real problem. There was the medication I was given for a stomach disorder I didn’t have that caused me to spiral into a major depression (a “RARE” side effect), the loss of money from having to drop out of massage therapy school because of the depression. The anti-depressants that didn’t work because I was still taking the medicines that were causing the depression. Researching my medicines and finding the answer to my depression to be the medication I was given for the disorder I didn’t have. This was something that both my doctor and my pharmacist should have easily figured out if they actually knew what the side effects of the first medication was. I went through hell.
One of the biggest problems I had was that when I would look up flax seed on the Internet, all I could find were the benefits of taking it. Then one day, I finally had the clarity to look up flax seed allergy and found this under the heading of “Safety” in this article by the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/flaxseed/NS_patient-flaxseed Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are reported in two individuals shortly after taking flaxseed products by mouth; these reactions may have been caused by allergy.
So, I hope by sharing this, someone will look up the words “flax seed allergy” and see this story, saving them months, or even years of unnecessary pain, misdiagnosis’, or, God forbid, something worse resulting from a misdiagnosis. I can offer this suggestion to you: If you feel like you may have an allergy to something that is uncommon, don’t wait, go to an allergist. If something unknown is making you sick, start a food diary and know everything that is in what you are eating so you have proof that there is that one common factor. And, if a doctor makes a suggestion or diagnosis that you are not certain about, get a second, third, fourth opinion until you are sure, and comfortable that what they are telling you is true. If I had not been so inquisitive and not done my own research, who knows what may have happened, or how much longer it may have taken to discover what was wrong. I wish you all the best of health.