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New research suggests flaxseed allergy may be on the rise as foods and supplements containing flaxseeds become more popular. Anna Bogush/Getty Images
  • Flaxseed allergies are being examined in two new cases being presented at this week’s American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting.
  • While further studies are needed to verify the scope and prevalence of flaxseed allergy, the cases show that reactions can occur after ingestion and from skin contact.
  • Many common foods contain flaxseeds and the health benefits are well established.

Flaxseed is a versatile, increasingly common dietary supplement loaded with nutrients and containing multiple health benefits.

Flaxseeds are high in fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and may help reduce risks of cancer. Flaxseeds are consumed whole or ground and are added to many common foods like breads, pastas, and cereals.

Flaxseed allergies are rare, but new research suggests they may be increasing.

Two new cases being presented this week at the annual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting in Anaheim, CA, suggests that flaxseed allergy can follow similar patterns to other IgE (immunoglobulin) allergies like nuts or eggs.

In one case, an 18-month-old toddler presented with a rash across their face and chest 20 minutes after consuming a packet of oatmeal with premixed flaxseed — their first exposure to flaxseed. The reaction self-resolved within four hours, and a skin prick test indicated allergies to other nuts and seeds.

The second case is centered on an artist who developed contact dermatitis that was severe enough to interfere with her work. Lead author Dr. Richard M. Harris, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy and Asthma Associates of Los Angeles Medical Group, told Healthline that the artist’s rash was non-responsive, and in such cases, he always asks for a patient’s occupation.

Patch testing showed a reaction to flaxseed, and a survey of the materials used in her painting showed a number of flaxseed and linseed oil-based paints.

These two cases together suggest that while cases of flaxseed allergies are rare, they do share some similarities with other IgE and skin allergies. Ultimately, though, more research is needed.

Current research suggests that flaxseed allergies are uncommon.

Yet given the recent rise in popularity of flaxseed as a nutritional supplement, there’s not as much research about the allergy as that of many other nuts and seeds, said Dr. Alana Xavier De Almeida, the lead author of the abstract “IgE Mediated Flaxseed Allergy in Non-Atopic Toddler Polysensitized to Tree Nuts but Tolerating Other Seeds.”

“The prevalence of flaxseed allergy is not well-documented, and it’s considered relatively rare compared to allergies to common foods like peanuts, eggs, or dairy,” De Almeida told Healthline.

“However, as more people are exposed to flaxseed due to its increasing popularity as a health food, there could potentially be an increased trend in reported cases. It’s important for researchers and healthcare professionals to monitor these trends.”

People with known allergies to nuts or seeds may want to consult their doctor or allergist to determine their sensitivity to flaxseed, but ultimately there aren’t strong known connections between them, said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist with the Allergy & Asthma Network. Parikh was not involved in the studies being presented this week.

“Although flaxseed is not one of the most common nine high-risk allergens, it is always a good idea for early introduction of any allergen as long as there are no contraindications. The main contraindications would be severe eczema and preexisting egg allergy; then would introduce with guidance of an allergist,” Parikh told Heathline.

“Allergies to different foods are generally caused by specific proteins, and while there might be some cross-reactivity between certain allergens such as other nuts, legumes, and seeds, further research is needed to establish any connections,” De Almeida noted.

Given the lack of extensive research, an optimal time to introduce flaxseed in an infant’s diet is not fully established, De Almeida said, but the existing knowledge of other similar allergens can offer some guidelines.

“Studies have shown the advantages of introducing certain allergens, like peanuts, dairy, and eggs, to infants between the ages of 4-6 months, leading to a decrease in the overall prevalence of food allergies. There is no reason to delay introduction of flaxseed to children but no current evidence that early introduction of flaxseed may prevent the development of an allergic reaction,” De Almeida said.

Much like introducing foods like eggs or peanut butter, parents should incorporate small doses of flaxseed to an infant and only focus on one allergen at a time, De Almeida added.

“Parents then should monitor the child for any adverse reactions and introduce only one new allergenic food at a time so they can clearly identify any allergic reactions. Flaxseeds can be easily mixed in a puree or yogurt. There are also many commercially available options for crackers and breads with flaxseed,” De Almeida said.

According to De Almeida, there is a wide range of reactions to flaxseed that can appear similar to other IgE-mediated food allergies like peanuts, dairy, or shellfish, and like those allergies, they can affect any of the body’s organ systems.

“Reactions to food can manifest in a wide array of signs and symptoms,” De Almeida said, noting these may include:

Flaxseed allergies are rare but new research suggests they could be on the rise with the growing popularity of more foods and supplements containing flaxseeds.

More research is needed to establish connections between flaxseed allergies and other IgE allergies like nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Parents introducing flaxseed to infants should follow similar protocols as those around peanut butter or eggs, and patients with preexisting food allergies should consult an allergist about flaxseeds.