Allergic Responses to Common Foods Could Significantly Increase Risk of Heart Disease, Cardiovascular Death

November 15, 2023 by

Jeffrey Wilson MD, PhD

Jeffrey Wilson MD, PhD

Sensitivity to common food allergens such as dairy and peanuts could be an important and previously unappreciated cause of heart disease, new research suggests – and the increased risk for cardiovascular death includes people without obvious food allergies.

That increased risk could equal – or exceed – the risks posed by smoking, as well as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers report.

UVA Health scientists and their collaborators looked at thousands of adults over time and found that people who produced antibodies in response to dairy and other foods were at elevated risk of cardiovascular-related death. This was true even when traditional risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes, were taken into account. The strongest link was for cow’s milk, but other allergens such as peanut and shrimp were also significant.

The troubling finding represents the first time that “IgE” antibodies to common foods have been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular mortality, the researchers report. The findings do not conclusively prove that food antibodies are causing the increased risk, but the work builds on prior studies connecting allergic inflammation and heart disease.

Approximately 15% of adults produce IgE antibodies in response to cow’s milk, peanuts and other foods. While these antibodies cause some people to have severe food allergies, many adults who make these antibodies have no obvious food allergy. The new research found that the strongest link with cardiovascular death was in people who had the antibodies but continued to consume the food regularly – suggesting they didn’t have a severe food allergy.

“What we looked at here was the presence of IgE antibodies to food that were detected in blood samples,” said researcher Jeffrey Wilson, MD, PhD, an allergy and immunology expert at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. “We don’t think most of these subjects actually had overt food allergy. Thus, our story is more about an otherwise silent immune response to food. While these responses may not be strong enough to cause acute allergic reactions to food, they might nonetheless cause inflammation and over time lead to problems like heart disease.”

Read full press release in the UVA Health newsroom.

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Filed Under: Research