Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Allergic to Cottonseed Oil

It's cheap, and therefore it's in everything, even some sodas.

   When Daniel was fairly young, he was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. I felt particular gypped by this as I had done everything right, including breast fed, and introduced solid foods relatively late, as this is felt to be a positive strategy in helping to avoid food allergies in childhood.   I'm sure that Daniel, at least at times, felt more gypped by the food allergies than I did.  I still remember clearly his being allergy tested at five, and screaming his head off as the testing lasted longer than it should have, and for part of it he was loaded into a papoose and secured with giant velcro bands to keep him still.  How ironic that he dies of a supposed arrhythmia seven years later, but he survived and recovered from the trauma of that day's allergy testing, which likely took a few years off the life of my heart as well.
                  Despite having multiple types of food allergies, the one with which we had the most challenges was cottonseed oil. People with cottonseed oil may be allergic to the protein structure of the oil itself.  Those with a cottonseed allergy might also be allergic to walnuts or other tree nuts.  Daniel was also allergic to peanuts.  Even while homeschooling, and sidestepping the available foods, treats and parties they would have had at school,  it was difficult to exclude this from his diet, especially since it seemed to be in more and more foods and medicines.  Even when buying powdered mashed potatoes for a camping trip, in teeny writing, cottonseed oil was included.  The Little Debbie cakes that Daniel so wanted to have, and are a childhood rite of passage for so many, contained cottonseed oil.  It was in salad dressings, any prepared food, any baked goods you don't make yourself, cereals, and breads. It's also in an abundance of chips and popcorn brands. It was almost always in the generic or store brands. It also changed seasonally, so a brand that did not have it last year, might have it this Spring, when they found it was the cheapest oil to use in a particular season.
                  Daniel was lucky in that his reactions were primarily mild asthmatic symptoms with some bronchospasm,  tachycardia as his own body released adrenaline with which to deal with the allergen, and occasionally gastrointestinal symptoms.  His skin was clear, and for this, we were grateful.  Severe hypotension and death can occur in those who ingest cottonseed oil when allergic to it.
                 Originally, food processors used cottonseed oil because it was available in abundance, it was lower in cholesterol than other oils and therefore could be healthier for most Americans, and because it was cheaper. It is also high in some of the Omega fatty acids, which makes it seem, on the surface, a good idea. Many other countries will not use it for food sources. However, over time, more and more people in the US are being allergy tested and are being found to be cottonseed oil allergic.  This problem is compounded by the fact that even a drop of it can cause major difficulties for some allergic persons, and although it must be listed on a label if it is added to a food, it may not be listed if it simply was used as the cooking oil in something.  Even the items you think are without cottonseed, may actually have some in it.
                 From age five and on to ten and twelve the allergist felt that Daniel may have outgrown some of the allergies, although we did not know for certain, as we weren't fond of the idea of repeating allergy testing. We simply avoided the foods for which we believed he was allergic.  He simply didn't wish to add them gradually into his diet, at a rate of one every six weeks, and so we didn't.
                  Daniel's history of food allergy is one reason that when Daniel collapsed and stopped breathing, that as I did CPR I had someone bring me epinephrine, thinking that it was possible that this had been an anaphylactic reactiion.  In all, I delivered two doses of epinephrine that day.  (An epi-pen would do the same thing, but as a nurse, our physicians have issued me the medications and syringes.) The intensive care unit helicopter was on its way.   Neither dose made any difference.
                  On autopsy, labs were drawn to see whether Daniel had elevations in bloodwork which indicated that he had died from anaphylaxis.  He hadn't.   He did not die of a food allergy related issue.
However, today I read that cottonseed oil contains something called gossypol, and that gossypol can drop the potassium level of many people.  Of course, a low potassium level can cause arrhythmia, and some arrhythmias can lead to arrhythmias that are incompatible with life.  It is surmised that Daniel probably died of a rapid onset sudden heart rhythm disturbance, also known as an arrhythmia. 
                 In November it will be five years since the day that the day after Thanksgiving, Daniel ate a quick breakfast and encouraged us to get up and go Christmas shopping.  He died that morning.  That shopping trip was not to be. The rest of his life was not to be.   My setting this aside, is not to be.
                 The truly sad thing is not just that Daniel's life ended at 12 1/2, but that while he was here, he was so heavily restricted from so many foods, and also a number of experiences he might have had.  This was indeed one of the reasons, we were never able to take a vacation, and leave our own kitchen while he was here on Earth.   We miss Daniel more than I can possibly convey in simple words. My heart remains broken.

Information on Cottonseed Allergy:






  1. So many ingredient labels have multiple choices of what oil is used, so you just never know. That frustrates me.

    So, do you think somehow he ingested cottonseed oil or just the gossypol? And, that it caused the arrhythmia?

    Unraveling health problems is so difficult.

    1. We worked really hard to keep cottonseed oil out of his diet. It IS possible, that the cereal he ate that morning had some cottonseed in it that was not stated on the label, and that on that particular day it dropped his potassium enough to cause the arrhythmia, and on from there. We will probably never know.

  2. Replies
    1. My heart is also broken for you, my friend.

  3. This is sad and terrifying at the same time. First off, I am so sorry that you lost Daniel, but I am glad you are sharing your story and the information. It's been hard dealing with my cottonseed oil allergy, but I'm glad to know I'm not alone. Since having my first reaction to Pringles three years ago, I have cut everything with the oil out of my life. Haven't eaten at a fast food restaurant in three years and have lost nearly 70 pounds, but that's beside the point. Unfortunately some companies blend oils and do not mention exactly *which* oils they used to blend. Just had another reaction to coffee creamer the other day. Oddly enough, I have the same reaction Daniel did; bronchospasm, tachycardia, and gastrointestinal problems. It's terrifying when your throat starts feeling weird and your heart starts racing. I start shaking and sweating because of the adrenaline. Thankfully a dose of Benadryl and a few hours of rest is all I've needed so far, but every time I have another reaction it's worse than the last. I've tried to find an allergist in the area to help me confirm my allergy, but the only one around here only tests for the main 8. They can't even send off a blood test, so I'm at a loss. I would welcome any tips you might have. Thanks again for sharing your story. Sarah.

    1. Sarah,
      Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to post here.
      I am glad that you have responded positively to the extraction of cottonseed oil in your diet and to Benadryl when you have accidentally ingested hidden sources of cottonseed oil.
      Daniel was doing well, but I am remembering now that one of the reasons he was never given an EKG or was never evaluated for anything cardiac is that his symptoms so classically fit the cottonseed allergy. How sad that it obscured another issue.
      I wish you well. It's a shame that rather than implementing Obamacare, more work hasn't been done on excluding cottonseed oil from food sources. Our allergist says that cottonseed oil was never really intended to be used as a foodstuff and that as time passes, more and more people will become sensitized, and become overtly allergic.
      Best wishes.


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