Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Corn Allergy

When you google “corn allergy”, the top links you get back seem to convey a picture of corn avoidance that is far less complicated than what I experience, and what the folks in my support groups and who contact me directly through my blog experience. Now, I’m not trying to bum anybody out here, but I am trying to keep everybody safe. Which does seem to bum people out a lot. But hey, I like being alive so I’m not bummed at all to know things that keep me that way.

Here are some of the things I see a lot of the most popular google hits on corn allergy get wrong. I’ve included references where I can, but in a lot of cases research on these kinds of things just haven’t been funded. So for some items all I really have is my own experiences, my own critical thinking, and reports from the patient community to go on. I would much prefer solid statistics and rigorous studies. If you would like to explore some of these topics in that manner, let me know and I will help you find volunteers to participate.

In the meantime, this is what I know, based on as much peer-reviewed research as I can find, the reports of 8,000 members in a support group, and many dozens of direct messages between myself and members of the corn allergy community:

Misconceptions about Corn Allergies
  1. Corn allergy reactions are only to the protein.
  2. If you have to avoid derivatives and traces of corn, you can do so by reading labels.
  3. If you have to avoid derivatives and traces of corn, you can do so by calling or emailing manufacturers and asking them if their product “contains corn”.
  4. Airborne reactivity to corn is impossible or at least incredibly rare.
  5. Coping with a corn allergy only involves avoiding foods that contain corn.
  6. The symptoms of a food allergy are limited to hives, hay-fever type symptoms, severe facial swelling, or throat closing.
  7. Food intolerances cannot cause serious reactions.

Incorrect: Corn allergy reactions are only to the protein. Starches, sugars, alcohols or other items synthesized using corn products as a starting material cannot cause an allergic reaction.

Actually:

Allergens can be more than just proteins.

Those articles are about allergens other than corn, but it’s intuitively obvious that if we barely have scratched the surface of identifying possible epitopes, we definitely don’t know ALL of the constituents of corn, peanuts, or other foods, that can cause an allergic reaction.

Protein-free in theory is not protein-free in practice.

Even if a person only reacts to the protein, if you look at the patents for many of the processes by which corn derivatives are made, especially for food-grade use which is less strictly regulated than lab use, it becomes clear that not a lot is done to purify the final product from its starting materials of corn.

Here’s a youtube review of citric acid production on aspergillus niger that discusses how it’s strained from the growth medium:

And here’s a patent that discusses simply centrifuging the mycelial growth out, which does nothing to remove any corn steep liquor that may not have been fully metabolized.

Whatever the reason, the patient experience is that we react to derivatives that “should” not contain protein.

I have a few research links to provide about this, but most of it you’ll have to just take my word as a patient, and as someone who’s in contact with a ton of patients. Again, if you’re someone that wants to conduct a rigorous study, please let me help you find some participants.

Almost everyone I’ve personally encountered with a corn allergy has to avoid sugar, starch, and food-grade alcohols derived from corn. Even the people who aren’t sensitive enough to need support groups or contact me for help.
Among the people that are sensitive enough to need a support group and/or reach out to me for help, most of us have to avoid more processed derivatives such as citric acid, lactic acid, ascorbic acid, and all of the other items found on the corn derivative list.

I have references on my “hidden corn” post showing *how* these items are from corn, but there isn’t a lot of research funded on proving that people have corn allergy reactions to them. We, as patients, just know that we do react to these things when they are derived from corn, and that we don’t when they aren’t, and we frequently have the reaction before we are aware of the corn-derived ingredients.

Here’s what I have for resources showing the possibility to reacting to corn based sugars, and starches. Unfortunately all I have is patient experience regarding ethanol or other derivatives. But it’s seriously a *lot* of patient experience.

Incorrect: If you have to avoid derivatives and traces of corn, you can do so by reading labels.

Actually:

As I detail in my hidden corn post (linked above), there are all kinds of ways that cross contamination can occur and not have to be listed on an ingredient.

Just a few examples off the top of my head:

More info in my hidden corn post.

Incorrect: If you have to avoid derivatives and traces of corn, you can do so by calling or emailing manufacturers and asking them if their product “contains corn”.

Actually:

Man, I wish this were true. I can’t tell you how many times I have people say, either directly to me or via the support groups, “Good news! I’ve contacted the company and they have verified that this product is corn free!”

Funny story, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable correlation between companies reporting this and people with corn allergy actually tolerating the item. In fact if there is one, it’s a negative correlation: Often when companies are confident that there is no corn in their product, they fail to answer questions accurately that would reveal where the hidden corn is.

I have a post discussing my experiences with calling companies about their products and giving some advice on getting a more accurate answer, and Von over at Avoiding Corn has some further explanation of why it’s so hard to get an accurate answer. That’s why we have the support groups- to trade stories of what we react to and tolerate and give ourselves slightly better than a random chance that we’ll tolerate the things we try.

Incorrect: Airborne reactivity to corn is impossible or at least incredibly rare.

Actually:

I know from personal experience that it’s possible, and if I thought I wouldn’t literally die, I would prove it in a double-blind study.

As it is, most of my airborne reactions have happened when I had no idea there was a contaminant around, and I only found out after I had a severe reaction that there was corn near me.

And I’m not actually unusual. I see a *lot* of people that I don’t consider to be super sensitive to traces and cross contamination with corn who still react airborne to popcorn, cooked corn, and corn chips. Sorry, no statistics here- that would require resources I don’t have and no one has funded a study that I’m aware of. I just observe that I don’t see too many people in the support groups who avoid eating corn but can be around corn.

Incorrect: Coping with a corn allergy only involves avoiding foods that contain corn.

Actually:

Having an adverse reaction to corn affects the medications you take, body products you use, and whether you can tolerate the air in many public places, including roads and highways.

Navigating medical procedures and medication with a corn allergy involves a ton of advanced preparation and research.

Additionally many of the ingredients on the derivative list above are also found in bath and body products including soap and shampoo. Cross reference this list with the ingredients list of literally any soap, lotion, or cosmetic you pick up.

Additionally a number of airborne contaminants that are sometimes annoying to people but not usually considered dangerous for allergies are a big problem for corn allergy: stage fog effects (corn glycerin), vape fumes (also corn glycerin), the ethanol in gas fumes, corn starch in fire works. Most corn allergy suffers report issues with artificial scents and fabric softeners.

Incorrect: The symptoms of a food allergy are limited to hives, hay-fever type symptoms, severe facial swelling, or throat closing. Anything else is an “intolerance.”

Actually:

Allergic reactions can cause a range of symptoms throughout the body.

These include: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, eczema, dizziness, tachycardia, skin flushing, laryngeal swelling, seizures, low blood-oxygen levels (hypoxemia), and chest pain.

Incorrect: Food intolerances cannot cause serious reactions.

Non-allergic food reactions can be serious or even deadly.

In conclusion, any food you have an adverse reaction to is a food you should avoid, regardless of whether you have a “true allergy” or not.

6 thoughts on “Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Corn Allergy

  1. Is there corn-free insulin?  Due to my corn allergy and the use of steroids I now have diabetes type 2.  most of my rx meds are compounded to avoid corn, soy, gluten fillers.  if you have any info with reference to type 2 treatment please help me?

    thank you barbara

  2. I’ve had reactions all my life. Finally found out it was corn and corn derivatives. I especially get reactions to derivatives.
    I always say I should be a science experiment.
    I hate corn. I wish it was on the allergy list.
    It is in Canada and Europe. Maybe I should move there.

  3. Wow. I never knew why I had to avoid random foods and additives. Guess I am more reactive to corn then I realized. Oddly, I can eat certain types of corn, mostly when I travel to places overseas that grow their own indigenous crops. I mean, I can eat several roasted ears of it, not just tolerate the dust. But in the US, a bit of corn starch produces eczema and diarrhea, and IBS before I knew not to do it,

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