Sesame Allergies More Prevalent Than Previously Thought

Researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine have conducted a new study that found that more Americans may be allergic to sesame than previously believed. According to the results of the study, as many as 1.5 million Americans have a sesame allergy, or roughly 0.5 percent of the population. That would make sesame the 9th most common cause of food allergies. The results of the study have been published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers at the Northwestern Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research surveyed roughly 50,000 US households, representing 40,453 adults and 38,408 children, using online and phone surveys. Participants were asked about suspected food allergies, actual diagnoses, and allergic reactions. Based on the answers given, the researchers determined that 0.49 percent of the population have a “convincing allergy to sesame” – defined as experiencing at least one common symptom of an allergic reaction.

The number reached by the Northwestern researchers is about five times more than previous research suggested. A 2010 study conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, placed the prevalence of sesame allergies at 0.1 percent. In their conclusion, researchers wrote that the new study “supports an increasing need for diligence and awareness of the role of sesame allergy in the United States.”

Prior to this latest study, it wasn’t clear exactly how prevalent allergies to sesame are. About 90 percent of food allergies are thought to be caused by eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat, all of which are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be listed on food labels. Currently, the FDA doesn’t require sesame to be listed on food labels, but it is required in the European Union, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The FDA is now considering changing its policy.