Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Allergic to Beer

Beer is old! Beer is so old that it is considered one of the world’s most ancient beverages. The first records of beer making date back to the Sumerian Civilizations of Mesopotamia around 3,000 BC, when they figured out that mixing grains with water could make something different…and awesome!

In its simplest form beer is water that has been fermented with a malted barley and yeast concoction, usually flavored with other ingredients.  Over the past 5,000 years, beer drinking has become a staple in most cultures and the beer trade has become one of the planets larges global industries.

However, because beer is a byproduct of natural ingredients that go through a chemical reaction, beers have different properties, some of which can cause allergic reactions in certain people. 

Below are a few things to consider if you think you may be allergic to beer:

Beer contains two main ingredients: barley and yeast. People who are allergic to barley and yeast are more likely to have an allergic reaction to beer, as beer contains a sizable amount of allergenic barley protein and of course yeast. An allergic reaction to either of these two allergens can vary in degree.  We recommend allergen skin testing to these food proteins to help identify if there is a true beer allergy, and specifically to which ingredients in the beer.
Beer is also made up of hops, which are bitter tasting flowers that brewers have used not only for flavoring, but also for it’s antibacterial properties.  The natural chemicals made by hops kill bacteria and make it easier for the brewer’s yeast to grow Allergic reactions to hops can be a cause of beer allergy.

Beers are regularly brewed with other ingredients to add unique aromas and flavors (raspberry, lemons, oranges, chocolate, coffee, etc), and these exotic brews are popping up more regularly on the shelves. Thank you DogFish Head!  However these “other” flavoring ingredients introduce a whole new realm of allergic possibilities.

And while it can be frustrating to realize that you are allergic to certain ingredients in beer, consider why you might be allergic:

Over the history of our planet, plants have developed self defense mechanisms to protect themselves from predators. Plants don’t have teeth. They don’t have claws. They don’t have fists. So when a plant is threatened, it relies on it’s own chemical warfare to fend off external predators. These chemicals are what react with your body and act as a plants warning to you, to stay away from that plant in the future.

Plants have the ability to create toxic compounds when needed, and they do that with specific proteins. These proteins are normally found deep inside the cell, but when threatened (usually by bacteria or a fungus), the cell moves these proteins from the inside to the outside. To do this, the plant cell uses a specific type of enzyme called a lipid transfer protein or LTP. Plants have many different types of LTPs.  It turns out, that LTPs found in pollens are highly allergenic. Similar looking (but not exactly the same) LTPs exist in other parts of the plant besides the pollen, including the grain. Therefore, beverages like beer are chock full of these LTP proteins (in fact, the LTPs provide the support for the foamy head found in beers). So when a person is sensitive to pollens, they can develop sensitivity to beer.

Unfortunately for many beer drinkers and people who are prone to allergies, we have only scratched the surface on this topic. Thanks to the craft brew movement, beers have become incredibly unique, complex and delicious. However this introduces an abundance of different combinations that can cause allergic reactions in people. 

If you have ever had a beer and felt like you were having an allergic reaction, you very well could be allergic to beer and should come get tested. If you have questions please give us at Hudson Allergy a call at 212-729-1283 or book an appointment to come on in. Click here to book an appointment