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What causes wheat allergies?

Certain foods prompt the body's immune system to react in abnormal ways. For people with wheat allergies, the body responds negatively to wheat proteins. The body treats wheat proteins that enter the body as a disease. The immune system creates antibodies that attack those proteins. Those antibodies, normally helpful for defending our bodies, cause the discomfort of allergies.

While wheat is a necessary ingredient in many breads and baked goods, it is also used in other less obvious food products. Some of these include soy sauce, beer, fish and meat substitutes (such as imitation crabmeat), hot dogs and ice cream. In Asian dishes, wheat flour can be flavored and shaped to mimic meat products. Food starches and flavorings also frequently contain wheat. With any product, be sure to read the food label closely since there are many hidden ingredients that may contain wheat.

Food allergies in general are very common and include allergies to wheat, peanuts, shellfish, eggs and milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that in the decade from 1997 to 2007 food allergies increased 18 percent in children under the age of 18. They also report that in 2007 about four percent of children reported a food or digestive allergy. Wheat allergies in particular are more common in children than adults.

Nancee Jaffe, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A wheat allergy is an immune reaction, which means the body creates antibodies in response to the ingestion of a protein—in this case, wheat protein. The main proteins in wheat that cause an allergic reaction are albumin and globulin, but someone can also have an allergic reaction to other proteins found in wheat, such as gliadin or the glutenin. A wheat allergy is an immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated reaction, so if you're going to get tested for wheat allergy, you should get IgE testing.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.