The use of hemp as a food item is gaining popularity owing to its many benefits. Hemp seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition and in the form of oil and powder can work wonders for the body.
An increase in the use of hemp as a food item is shedding light on its potential as a possible allergen. Theoretically, the human body can be allergic to any food it consumes. Some common food allergies include reactions to peanuts, soy, cow’s milk, wheat, and fish. It’s not unusual, therefore, to have an allergic reaction to hemp foods.
However, it is important to identify if our body’s allergy is a reaction to the hemp plant or an additional substance that is not inherent to it.
What is an allergy?
A food allergy is an autoimmune response of the human body to a protein or pollen present in something the body consumes. The body can identify a harmless substance as a potential threat and acts accordingly to stop it.
The intensity of an allergic reaction differs from one immune system to another. It is possible for the human body to be allergic to any food it consumes. However, as research suggests, it is more likely to be allergic to food items that are high in protein.
Hemp Food Allergy
Hemp seeds are a rich source of protein. Hemp protein contains all essential amino acids that the body needs to function correctly. That too in an amount significantly closer to complete sources of proteins.
On average, a 100g serving of hemp seeds brings 34g of protein in the body. This is higher than our average sources of protein and can set off considerably noticeable reactions in the body.
With an increase in the use of hemp foods, science is learning more about the potential of hemp, and cannabis at large, as a possible allergen.
Common Allergic Reactions to Hemp
A true hemp allergy stems from a negative reaction to a substance present in the hemp plant. According to studies, inhalation of hemp pollen causes:
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat
- Conjunctival injection (redness of the eye)
- Difficulty in breathing
- Itchiness and swelling of the skin.
The inhalation of hemp pollen can also cause symptoms of asthma and conjunctivitis.
Though every human body reacts differently to an allergen, based on the available evidence, some common symptoms of a hemp allergy include:
- Irritation: itchiness, swelling, and puffiness of the eyes, and the skin in general.
- Hives: in the forms of skin rash, plaques, or pale red bumps.
- Allergic Rhinitis: sneezing, running nose, and nasal congestion.
- Asthma: difficulty in breathing, tightness in the chest, and abnormal lung function.
- Conjunctivitis: pink and/or red bloodshot eyes.
- Anaphylaxis: skin rash, nausea, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, and shock.
Which parts of hemp are most allergic?
Generally, the most common allergen is pollen—a powder released by trees, grasses, and weeds to fertilize the seeds of the neighbouring plants.
In theory, any part of the plant can trigger an allergic reaction in the body. However, the parts that contain a high amount of protein or pollen are the most likely offenders. That is to say, hemp seeds.
If you are allergic to hemp seeds, you are most likely to be allergic to hemp seed-based products. These include hemp hearts, powder, and secondary food products such as hemp milk.
Hemp seed oil, in contrast, is highly unlikely to be an allergen. This is because hemp oil is refined to be 100% fat. However, depending on a person’s biology, hemp oil may cause some of the above-listed symptoms.
Hemp Allergy with Additional Ingredients
The world is just beginning to embrace the manifold uses of hemp. Hemp, in many different forms, is continuously being used as a base ingredient in many staple food items as well as cosmetic products.
The combination of hemp with additional ingredients can, in some cases, spark an allergic reaction. However, in these cases, it becomes challenging to identify if the allergy is because of hemp or some other ingredient.
This principle explains to us cases where cosmetic products with hemp seed oil as an ingredient cause a reaction.
Is hemp allergy common?
Though it might seem otherwise, hemp allergies are just as common as other food allergies. It seems unusual because the use of hemp as food or wellness product is unusual. But at the bottom of it all, it is just a plant and may sometimes trigger an unwanted reaction in the body.
Who is more prone to developing hemp allergy?
Though any human body can set off an unexpected reaction at any time, some people may be at a greater risk of having a hemp allergy. A 2018 study suggests that people with allergies to dust mites, mould, and cat dander are at a greater risk of developing hemp or cannabis allergies.
How to manage a hemp allergy?
It is possible to control or reduce hemp allergy symptoms such as irritation, hives, and conjunctivitis both naturally and with medication. For instance, ice packs are a simple, natural solution to alleviate inflammation on the skin as well as pink eye.
It is in the case of extreme reactions such as asthma or anaphylaxis that one needs to be extra cautious. More often than not, the treatment for such reactions includes the use of antihistamines and steroids. These, however, should only be consumed in consultation with a certified physician.
Is there a medical test?
In case of severe symptoms, a physician may conduct a test. A hemp allergy test is often dependent on skin testing. A skin prick test determines if a person is allergic to one or more specific allergens.
If the body finds sensitivity, the immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). These IgE antibodies are unique to each allergen.
The physician conducts an allergen-specific IgE blood test to check if the person is actually allergic to that particular substance. Interestingly, a positive skin prick test does not necessarily indicate that a person will experience an allergic reaction. Doctors need to continually compare skin prick tests over time across the patient’s symptoms.
Can I avoid hemp allergy?
Since each human body reacts differently to each substance, offering a definitive way of avoiding an allergic reaction is unlikely. However, a good first step is to research and adopt products that are authentic and genuine.
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