Lupine allergy; allergy to lupine beans (flour)

A lupine allergy is a food allergy. Certain proteins in lupine can trigger an allergic reaction in people. Lupine beans are the seeds of the lupine plant and can be eaten simply as a bean. They can also be processed, for example into lupine flour, and thus added to various foods. A lupine allergy can be mild, but also very serious. An isolated lupine allergy (primary allergy) occurs, but there is more often a cross-reaction (secondary allergy). An existing peanut allergy is usually responsible for this.

  • What is lupine?
  • Nutritional value of lupine
  • Products with lupine
  • A lupine allergy
  • Complaints of a lupine allergy
  • Diagnosis of a lupine allergy
  • Treatment of a lupine allergy
  • Allergen labeling

 

What is lupine?

The lupine plant (Lupinus) is a plant species that, like the peanut, belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae). There are hundreds of varieties of lupines with white, blue, purple, pink and yellow flowers. Lupins contain bitter substances (alkaloids), which are natural toxins that give the plants a bitter taste and protect the plants against insects, among other things. The flat and yellow seeds of the lupine plant are called lupine beans and these are very nutritious. Because many lupines contain a high concentration of bitter substances, they are not suitable for consumption. Similarly, the wild lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), which grows in some gardens, is inedible and even poisonous to humans. The so-called sweet lupins are lupines that have a much lower proportion of bitter substances, making them suitable for consumption. These are the:

  • white sweet lupine (Lupinus albus)
  • blue sweet lupine (Lupinus angustifolius)
  • yellow sweet lupine (Lupinus luteus)

 

Nutritional value of lupine

Lupine beans contain many vegetable proteins and essential amino acids such as methionine and tryptophan. Lupine beans also contain a lot of dietary fiber. In addition, the beans contain various B vitamins and important minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and zinc.

Products with lupine

Lupine beans can be eaten whole. Especially in Mediterranean countries, they are often added to stews or salads. Lupine beans in glass are ready to use, but dried beans must first be thoroughly soaked and cooked before they are suitable for consumption. Lupine beans are also processed in, for example, plant-based milk products or meat substitute products. Lupine flour, flour made from ground lupine beans, is frequently used by the food industry as a bread or product improver. Because lupine flour is gluten-free, it is also often added to gluten-free foods.

A lupine allergy

Due to the increasing demand for both meat substitutes and gluten-free products, in 2021 there are more and more products with lupine as an ingredient. As a result, there has also been an increase in the number of people with a lupine allergy. Even when lupine is present in a product in very minimal quantities, it can lead to mild but also life-threatening physical reactions. An isolated (primary reaction) allergic reaction occurs when the body mistakes certain lupine proteins as dangerous invaders and produces antibodies against these lupine proteins. These antibodies are responsible for the physical complaints. An isolated allergic reaction to lupine occurs, but is rarer than the secondary allergy. A secondary allergy, also called a cross-reaction, is an allergic reaction to a very similar existing allergen. Because the lupine bean is closely related to the peanut, the cross-reaction between this legume and lupine is common. The cross-reaction can also occur with other legumes, but this chance is much smaller compared to the cross-reaction with peanuts.

Complaints of a lupine allergy

An allergic reaction to lupine can be mild, but also very serious. The complaints usually start with tingling and itching of the tongue and oral mucosa. A runny nose, rash or red and itchy eyes can also occur. These relatively mild complaints often occur within a few minutes after taking lupine and usually subside quickly. If the reaction is limited to these complaints, it is called oral allergy syndrome (OAS). However, far-reaching complaints can also occur, such as stomach and intestinal complaints in the form of nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. In very serious situations, an anaphylactic reaction may occur. This is a life-threatening situation and can include:

  • a weak or fast heartbeat
  • drop in blood pressure or shock
  • severe mucus formation and thickening of the throat
  • shortness of breath or acute asthma due to mucus formation in the lungs

In case of these complaints, the help of a doctor should be sought immediately.

Diagnosis of a lupine allergy

The GP, a dermatologist or an allergist can determine a suspected lupine allergy using an allergy test. There are different types of allergy tests:

  • a skin prick test,
  • a blood test
  • a provocation test

The most reliable is the provocation test. This allergy test clearly shows how the body reacts to the allergen and in what quantity.

Treatment of a lupine allergy

The treatment of a lupine allergy will depend on the severity of the complaints. With mild complaints, medication is usually not necessary. For more serious complaints, an antihistamine or anti-inflammatory agent can be used. In case of life-threatening complaints, the doctor will prescribe an auto-injection pen with ephedrine (adrenaline), for example an EpiPen.
In addition, it is necessary to read and continue to read the ingredients list of products carefully. Since a manufacturer can change the composition of a product.

Allergen labeling

When lupine appears in a pre-packaged product, even if in minimal quantities, the manufacturer is obliged to clearly state this on the ingredients list, for example in bold letters. In 2021, this applies to fourteen food allergens, which have been determined by the European Union to cause very serious and sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions. The other thirteen food allergens on the list are:

  • gluten-containing grains
  • crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • fish
  • peanuts
  • soy
  • milk (lactose or milk proteins)
  • sesame
  • mustard
  • nuts
  • celery
  • sulfur dioxide and sulphites
  • mollusks

For non-prepackaged food, a so-called information obligation applies to these fourteen allergens, for example in restaurants. The obligation here is that these allergens must be available on request, either via a form, sign or through verbal explanation.

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