Allergies and Food Culture

Common allergies mirror what is frequently eaten in your particular food culture.

The big 8 in the U.S. is actually only true for typical American (SAD?) diets.

Other potent allergens depending on culture: sesame, buckwheat, mustard.

Although it is a tree nut, there was no commercial extract for testing chestnut when I visited an allergist in the US, whereas in Korea, it is a top 3 allergen.

Some are not potent but eaten frequently enough may cause cases: rice as reported in Japan.

My allergies mirror my upbringing, representing both East and West.

East: buckwheat, chestnut, soy, fermented soy, shrimp
West: milk, wheat (barley, rye), pecan

Buckwheat Allergy

Buckwheat is actually a highly allergenic food (potentially dangerous reactions), especially in the East Asian food culture, that I didn’t suspect.

But after allergy tests showed a positive result I looked back at my food and symptoms diary. Immediately after each time I had buckwheat, which I occasionally had since going gluten free, I had noted scratchy sore throat. I’m also highly suspicious it caused GI issues but 1) all these symptoms were on the milder side and 2) I had been eating other problem foods.

Again a case that shows our subjective expectations can cause blindspots. Also, testing and tracking used together are a pretty powerful combination that can help confirm suspicions.

Other similar pseudo grains (seeds) such as quinoa, and amaranth are suspected of causing diarrhea as well. Are they cross reactive to buckwheat?

Shrimp Allergy Trial and Errors

Anchovy products

“Why in the world would you have to be careful with anchovy products? It’s a fish! Not shellfish/ crustacean!” is an all too common sentiment. BUT, as is the case with many things in this world, it’s a little more complicated than that.Shrimp is a common bycatch with anchovy. I first realized this when I bought dried anchovies. And this was more common the smaller they are. The package always says 100% anchovy but if you look closely you can see small shrimp mixed in among them. It becomes more obvious when you start cooking it as the shrimp would turn red. This I’ve experienced myself.

I have also heard people saying for larger anchovy, if you try gutting them yourself, you sometimes find undigested shrimp in their bellies! if this is true it’s an even bigger problem. Anchovies are pretty much out of the picture unless they are big enough to be gutted or you gut them yourself.

Still from personal experience, I seem to be okay with fish sauce (fermented anchovy), and dried anchovy (roughly inch long and larger without unintended shrimp mixed in).

Seaweed products

Most are fine. But there was one case where kelp bought at the source had lots of tiny crustaceans attached to it. Other than that I haven’t had any problems with commercial seaweed products.

The minefield of eating out and other randomness

Fermented shrimp paste or broths made with dried shrimp hides in many Asian foods.

An entirely unexpected case where sweet potato starch noodles (supposedly an upgraded version) had chitosan (from crab) in it. All other clear noodles I’ve tried have been fine as they were 100% sweet potato starch.

Food Challenge Trial and Errors

Even if you are “sure” you don’t have any food issues, even if your skin-prick test is negative, don’t just scarf down a whole serving when you reintroduce a food. I thought I would die when I tried it with milk, and shrimp. You might still react and you might literally risk your life.

At least it made me never want to touch milk again despite my lifelong love for all things dairy.

Subjective Symptoms

When people ask me why I am eating gluten free I sometimes find myself leaving out the seemingly “subjective” symptoms and focus on the more physical “objective” ones. Yet it was my “subjective” symptoms following a gluten challenge that were severe enough to convince me that I never want to eat it again, in spite of my former love of pastries, breads, pastas, and the occasional cookie.

So what were these subjective symptoms?


The smallest things would get me to snap. And there seems to be no brakes. No room for reason to step in. Just escalation.

Brain… just… would. not…….work.

I would feel extremely slow, like my brain ground to a halt. I might find myself trying to decide whether to get groceries today or not and an hour would go by getting super frustrated at my inability to make simple decisions.

Less obvious to myself, but maybe easier to measure, slower reaction times when playing sports or driving.

Now I suspect that these are not truly subjective, just because it’s “in the head”. There could certainly be ways to measure such things.

For example, cognitive functioning tests, reaction speed tests, physical measurements of stress levels, etc.

Even the most seemingly subjective mood can be tracked by various means these days. Especially with smartphone apps/ wearables through activity levels, sleep patterns, and even the tone and speed of one’s speech.

On a side note, I wonder if the sensation of hunger can be objectively measured as well. Perhaps through blood sugar levels?

Additional Info on Migraine

General migraine info:

Book: Heal Your Headache, David Buchholz, M.D.

Migraines can alter brain structure permanently


Migraine as food allergy:

People with migraines had reactions to food allergens, the most common reaction was to wheat (78%), orange, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, milk, beef, corn, cane sugar, and yeast. When 10 foods causing the most reactions were removed migraines fell precipitously, hypertension declined. (Grant EC (1979). “Food allergies and migraine”. Lancet. 1 (8123): 966–9.)

A specific instance attributed to wheat. (Pascual J, Leno C (2005). “A woman with daily headaches”. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 6 (2): 91–2.)

Could a hidden allergy be causing your migraines?

In accordance with my own experience, researchers could not trigger migraine with bright light by itself. I also observed that bright sun light is not itself a trigger but would make throbbing pain worse once the migraine already started.


And a random case I read. Christine H. Lee’s tiny hole in her heart caused her migraine, which was discovered when it caused her stroke.

I Had a Stroke at 33

The hole, or more accurately a flap, is called a patent foramen ovale, or PFO. All fetuses have a hole in their heart between the left and right chambers, to bypass the lungs as they take oxygen from their mother’s blood. Once born, that flap fuses. And once born, nearly a quarter of humans have holes in their hearts that don’t completely close. For some, the hole is severe and needs to be closed immediately. For many others, the hole is undetected. Maybe like I used to, you get migraine headaches, or have altitude sickness at 5,000 feet instead of 10,000 feet, or find yourself panting while doing a slow jog, no matter how often you train.

Migraine Mysteries

Many years ago, I once went to the doctor with complaints about my headaches. He prescribed pain killers and gave a lack luster talk about perhaps keeping a diary to try to find my triggers. It might have been an off day but he just seemed exasperated.

Unfortunately this is a pretty common experience for migraine sufferers. It doesn’t seem that our pain is taken seriously. Well, we now know that migraines are not harmless and can cause long term brain damage. More reason why we shouldn’t just stop at symptom control. There is an underlying cause, though it may be different from person to person, therefore requiring quite a bit of detective work.

Available trigger lists are a starting point but the answer is highly individual.

From casual observance I knew I was likely to get migraine after moderately intense exercise, watching a movie at the theater, and a few random cases after eating out. Generally symptoms were somewhat worse around my period and once migraine starts pain intensified under sun light. I usually had to lie down in a dark quiet room until the next day.

Mate’s cases usually happened after eating out.

In my case, migraine after exercise reduced by nearly 90% when I went gluten free. The other 10% or so disappeared when I eliminated tree nuts, soy, some seeds, and some beans (all seeds of plants, is there something to this??).


In summary our migraine triggers:

Me: food allergies (wheat, tree nuts, soy), combined with exercise/ free glutamate/ other highly stimulating environments (movies at the theater)/ hormones and/or NSAIDs.

Mate: amines? (tyramine, histamine?) mold? (Suspects are fermented soy, fish sauce…)

Both: fresh baked yeast bread

Exercise Induced Allergies

Exercise induced allergies are an example of symptoms being provoked only when two (or more) factors are present at the same time. This makes it much harder to tease out the cause(s).

Food dependent exercise induced anaphylaxis (FDEIA) was first described in a case study in 1979, which seems fairly recent by medical standards. In comparison, Aspergers (now high functioning Autism) was first described in 1944.

Wheat allergy and delayed migraine connection was first confirmed through DBPCFC (double blind placebo controlled food challenge: the “gold standard”) in 2006.

Other possibilities such as free glutamates (MSG), NSAIDs amplifying allergic reaction have been described.

A study of WDEIA (wheat dependent exercise induced anaphylaxis)* shows that both aspirin and exercise increase the presence of gliadin in the blood stream** and the chronic induced behavior may extend to NSAIDs, MSG, Benzoate and other synthetic chemical food additives.

*Or GDEIA (gluten dependent exercise induced anaphylaxis)

**Morita E, Kunie K, Matsuo H (2007). “Food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis”. J. Dermatol. Sci. 47 (2): 109–17. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2007.03.004. PMID 17507204.

Exercise Woes in the Past

All throughout my teens and twenties jogging caused abdominal pain. I could feel my intestines painfully juggling inside me quite frequently leading to diarrhea. If I jogged everyday, it seemed my body adapted the best it could so this problem would reduce. But, if I even skipped a couple of days the pain would come right back.

Occasionally this led to nearly passing out and vomiting. Understandably some companions were spooked and never asked me to work out together again.

Any exercise with enough intensity to cause me to sweat would make me itch all over.

Uphill hiking, moderate to intense, more than an hour long, would cause additional problems. I would become swollen, pale, and nauseated. At first I thought I was weak and didn’t have endurance, but the odd thing was that I wasn’t out of breath and I was entirely fine the next day when others who seemed fine on the mountain might be suffering from muscle aches and fatigue.

In the recent past, 1/4 of the time I did not feel well enough to exercise, either due to hormones and/or use of NSAIDs*. Out of the 3/4 of the time I could exercise, 1/3 of the time I suffered severe migraine immediately after and 3/3 itchiness.

All these symptoms became a thing of the past once I became aware of my allergies, which truly brought back the joy in moving my body.

* NSAIDs: NonSteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve).

Fresh Yeast Attack

This was funny because five people ate the same thing. I made a sweet flatbread, gluten free, leavened with yeast.

After just a couple of bites to taste while frying them up a horrible crushing headache hit so I had to retreat to bed in a dark room even before the others had really started eating. Another person had the worst gas for two days along with headache, blowing our minds about how much gas production is possible from a human being. The other three people had no problem whatsoever. We all have no noticeable problem eating commercial gluten free yeast bread, which most likely were baked more than a few days ago and sometimes even frozen.

I wonder what the mechanism is and haven’t been able to find one yet. If anyone has an explanation for this please share. Some migraine trigger lists have fresh baked yeast bread on it, less than a day old. There must have been enough people with anecdotal evidence for this to be on these lists, to which we are adding our little episode as well.