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UVA scientists find a possible link between food allergy and cardiovascular disease

Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, M.D., Ph.D.

People who are allergic to milk, peanuts, shrimp or some other food develop antibodies in their blood. Often, they have no symptoms, according to Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, an expert on allergy and immunology at UVA.

“Something on the order of 4% of adults make allergic antibodies to cow’s milk. We suspect very few of them have clinical allergy, but if you go and sample the blood you can find detectable levels of allergic antibodies in about four percent."

These are people who are potentially allergic to milk – not lactose intolerant. Overall, Wilson adds, about 15% of us have antibodies to some food.

Based on a review of more than 5,000 people, Wilson and colleagues at the University of North Carolina and UVA think those allergies might make cardiovascular disease more likely.

“At least in this study it was on par with things like smoking or having diabetes, which are well-established risk factors for heart disease, but the thing that seems to make the risk even higher is if you’re routinely eating that food. Heart disease 25 years ago was sort of a lipids and cholesterol story, but now heart disease is really understood in a significant way to be chronic inflammatory disease, and there is a lot of evidence that has shown allergic inflammation and immune responses have links with heart disease.”

But Wilson says more studies are needed before doctors start testing patients’ blood for antibodies or suggesting dietary changes to prevent heart disease linked to food allergies.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief