Housekeeping Tips for Environmental Allergens

This started for my spouse’s dermatographism after testing positive to almost all environmental triggers (dust mite, pollen, mold, cat and dog, etc.). This may all be due to mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). In real life my partner reacts to dust mite, some pollens, cats, and possibly mold.

No fragrance (soaps, shampoos, laundry detergent, lotion, cosmetics, etc.).

No harsh cleaners (vinegar, baking soda suffice for most jobs).

Hot wash and dry all sheets, pillow covers, blanket covers, etc. at least once every two weeks. Dust mite reproduce in a month.

Use a dust mite proof mattress cover.

On a side note, it may actually help to NOT make your bed. Dust mite thrive in moist, warm environments. Expose your bed to the cool and dry air. Hang blanket over headboard or something if possible.

No carpets, if possible.

Vacuum frequently (at least once a week) with a model that has hepa filters.

Ventilate. Ventilate. Ventilate. Keep everything dry.

Keep an eye out for any spots that tends to hold moisture for mold growth.

Treat with vinegar at first sight of any mold.

Be very careful about using chemical insecticide, try to find alternatives. Diatomaceous earth maybe?

Causes of Processed Food Troubles

I don’t usually talk about my diet issues, but in the rare cases it comes up, frequently people tell me they cannot figure out what exactly is causing their issues. They don’t think they have any issue with any one food, but they do feel a lot better when they eat out less, or eat less processed foods. Setting aside the fact that they may never have done an experiment on themselves controlled well enough to actually pin point their problem, I wondered what kind of things might be the culprit if we took this statement “feeling better with less eating out and less processed foods” at face value.

Histamine and/or other biogenic amines, mold, additives, even dust, dust mites, or other insects come to mind.

In practice it may be very difficult to narrow down the culprit much further. But then that may not make that much of a difference as there is a lot of overlap in the foods that potentially contain the substances listed above.

Deciphering Labels for Mold Allergies

Obviously ingredient labels will not expressly tell you “mold”. With the exception of things like yeast, aspergillus oryzae or other such formal starter cultures that are intentionally used to produce certain foods.

The main things I look out for are anything fermented (sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented bean pastes, kombucha, chocolate) including vinegar. Speaking of vinegar, most commercial vinegar is fine in small amounts as they are pasteurized. Heat removes most of the problems for me. I avoid raw or unpasteurized vinegars found usually in the fancier, healthy, small batch brands. I avoid things like sauerkraut and fermented bean paste even when cooked, as these have large amounts of mold and seem to cause mild issues.

Things would be much more complicated if one does not tolerated small amounts of mold even when cooked. This would mean any tomato products, mushrooms, even berry preserves would be out, among others. Luckily I am okay with these.

Also, corn and peanut are notorious for mold contamination. The more processed they are, the more we cannot see their whole form, the more likely to be problematic. As for us, we didn’t detect any problem with fresh corn, even frozen or canned corn, where we can see the whole kernels. But there were some incidents that made us suspicious of corn flour or cornmeal products such as cereals or chips. 

Fermented Soy

Soy decreases allergenicity when fermented, which might be meaningful if you are allergic or intolerant to soy. 

But less well known, some are allergic to fermented soy but okay with soy. 

There is a study on late onset anaphylaxis with natto allergic. Unusual in that it is IgE mediated but triggered only when it reaches the intestines, taking a mean of 8 hours.

I am not okay with soy but my reaction is much worse with raw fermented soy. I suspect it is the difference between soy protein intolerance versus mold (aspergillus) allergy. If I didn’t have the latter I might have tolerated small amounts of fermented soy, such as that of a typical condiment serving size, which would have opened up some more flavor adventures, alas.

Fresh Cut Grass

At least two possibilities if you react to fresh cut grass.

Grass allergy (late spring, kicks up the pollen)

Or

Mold allergy (year around)

I clearly have a problem with fresh cut grass. I suspect mainly the mold being kicked up when the lawn is mowed.

Unfortunately, I may also have grass allergy. Haven’t got tested for it yet but I get sneezing fits in May out on the grass even when it’s not freshly cut. And possibly related to my grain food allergies. After all cereal grains are the seeds of grass.

https://www.allergicliving.com/2010/07/02/outdoor-allergy-grass-allergy-attack/

In the central and northern United States and Canada, grass generally pollinates in May, June and July. Farther south, the pollen starts filling the air a couple of months earlier. 

• Avoid being the person who cuts the grass in the pollinating months of May through July. The lawn mower kicks up the pollen and sends it into your eyes and nose. If it’s only grass allergy you’re contending with, you may be fine to mow the lawn in other months.

Kim notes however, that “often patients will have allergy symptoms with fresh cut grass in August or September. That’s not grass pollen allergy, that may be mold allergy from the molds being stirred up.” As well, Stark cautions that the dust the lawn mower creates while it’s trimming can get into your nasal passages like pollen, and also cause symptoms.

Gochujang Incident

Gochujang is a Korean condiment. A mixture of hot pepper, sweetener, and fermented soy paste (doenjang). I had been avoiding these for some time after going gluten-free as most commercial versions contain wheat and/ or barley. I finally found some products made the traditional way that were gluten-free. I made a bowl of bibimbap (rice, egg, and sauteed veggies) and added a dollop of the gochujang. But a short while later I ended up vomiting and sweating profusely. I had been episode free for over a year. I am pretty sure this gochujang was the culprit because I ate everything at home that day, made myself, and everything else were items I knew to be safe. When a reaction is this painful and I’m pretty sure about the culprit, I don’t want to test it again for the sake of knowing with absolute certainty. This incident finally got me thinking about that allergy I had to mold and especially to aspergillus mix. Traditionally fermented soy paste can include many varieties of molds but the main one is aspergillus oryzae. Unlike most commercial versions, the product was also unpasteurized, which meant the cultures were alive, and may have been the critical reason why this was the first clear acute reaction I had to a fermented soy product.

Mold as Food Allergy

Mold was not something we were looking out for but incidents made it increasingly clear that I was reacting to it. The presence of moldy fruit or freshly cut grass would cause sneezing, runny nose, and headaches. When ingested (accidentally, from a mold contaminated smoothie maker) it also caused sharp abdominal pain in addition to the aforementioned symptoms. Later in the day it would lead to dizziness, food cravings, and napping.

Mold allergy is mostly thought of as an environmental, inhalant allergy, but does it have any implications for food choices? Despite the smoothie maker incident and later a positive skin prick test result for aspergillus mix I did not think much of it. It wasn’t until my incident with gochujang that I realized this had relevance with what I put in my mouth as well.

There was not much information online about mold allergies and food. The more formal sites seemed to suggest the relationship is not clear. A few other sites had an extensive list of foods mold allergic people should avoid. Unlike most food allergies, mold is not something you can avoid 100%. There is always some mold in the environment, and mold is always starting to grow on food. This is why things get very murky when you realize you react to mold in food. It becomes a function of your individual tolerance level and the amount of mold in the food.

Now, I am but one person. Well, perhaps two, when I count my spouse, who tested positive to pretty much every type of mold out there.

For what it’s worth, in our experience,

fine: commercial vinegar, pickles, ketchup, soy sauce (small amount)

fine only when sufficiently fresh: raw sprouts, grapes, berries, kimchi

clear problem: raw (unpasteurized) fermented soy products, old fermented or pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, chocolate (might be by different mechanism), any leftovers stored more than a few days

gray area: cooked fermented soy

In short, cooked or pasteurized items did not cause any acute reactions. For example, mushrooms seems to be fine as they are always eaten cooked. Food prepared with a reasonable level of hygiene, and eaten within two to three days with refrigeration, are also likely to be fine. Items likely to have significant live cultures are obvious no no’s.

Cooked fermented soy is the main gray area. We are highly suspicious of it causing at least some mild gastrointestinal symptoms and headache. Though in my partner’s case the main mechanism of this might be high amines. We also noticed that chocolate and cooked fermented soy seems to cause a low mood.