A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reveals that common food allergens such as peanuts and cow’s milk could eventually lead to heart disease. Corinne Keet, MD, PhD, Pediatric Allergy and immunology Professor at University of North Carolina (UNC) Department of Pediatrics, and others found that individuals who produced more antibodies to cow’s milk (and other food allergens), specifically IgE antibodies, were at higher risk of cardiovascular-related death. This conclusion was retained after all other risk factors including, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes were controlled. During the study, the strongest correlation was with cow’s milk, but the results were significant with other IgE groups including peanuts and shrimp.
Keet and others for the first time discovered that IgE antibodies to common foods could be linked to mortality. However, more work needs to be done because it is still unclear how food antibodies can be linked to increased risk of heart disease.
Previous work demonstrated that there is a connection between allergic inflammation and heart disease. In the recent paper, Keet and others concluded that individuals who had antibody IgE to foods resulted in higher risk of cardiovascular mortality. This finding is particularly interesting because it is extremely common to have IgE to foods. In fact, 15% of Americans have IgE to a common food allergen, but do not have symptoms when they eat food.
The work conducted in the paper was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and used two sources to examine IgE sensitization and cardiovascular mortality: Data from roughly 4,000 participants from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) and around 1,000 participants in the Wake Forest site of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). NHANES participants were enrolled in the study around 2005 and were tracked for about 14 years. Comparatively, participants in MESA were enrolled between 2000 and 2002 with follow ups for 19 years. In both groups total and specific IgE was measured in cow’s milk, peanuts, and other food allergen specific products. Keet and others found that 229 participants in the NHANES group and 960 participants in MESA died from a cardiovascular-related death. Unfortunately, the study did not have access to information about whether participants had a clinical food allergy. However, scientists found a stronger association related to food sensitization compared to a food allergy. Associations were strengthened when the researchers excluded individuals who regularly avoided food allergens based on a previous questionnaire, indicating a clinical food allergy. These associations demonstrate possible long-term effects in non-allergic individuals consuming food allergens, such as cow’s milk.
Keet and others conclude that IgE is linked to cardiovascular disease as a long-term complication of food sensitization. There is now evidence for allergic-type immune pathways in cardiac physiology. Additionally, there is much to still investigate since this novel link between cardiac disease and cow’s milk could help scientists better understand food sensitization. Overall, this work lays the foundation for further research necessary to improve our understanding of food allergies and sensitization over long periods of time in relation to cardiac disease.