DEAR DR. BLONZ: Sometime earlier in the year, I began adding a tablespoon of flaxseed to my morning granola. After about one week, I began to experience symptoms of vertigo. One day it was so bad that I could not even get out of bed in the morning. I have never experienced symptoms of vertigo before, so I thought it might be the flaxseed that was responsible. I stopped taking it, and the symptoms disappeared. Have you ever heard of such a case? -- F.D., Hayward, California
DEAR F.D.: Seeds are often sources of substances associated with food allergies, but reactions to flax are not common. Such an occurrence, however, is not out of the realm of possibility. The experience you relate certainly does cast suspicion in that direction. But your query highlights a situation we all must acknowledge: namely, that untoward reactions from foods do not always present with a clear connection between the cause and the effect.
When we experience something unexpected after eating, it is reasonable to consider the last thing consumed as a likely suspect, especially if it was something new. If it seems to recur whenever it’s eaten, we start to think we are on solid footing. What happens, however, if there is little basis for the connection, and our health professionals are unable to offer guidance?
If we are confident in our decision, we might act on our assumptions and cross the suspected offender off our “to eat” list. We might, however, be persuaded by the guidance of health professionals and begin to look elsewhere to explain the reaction. Or, we might simply chalk up the reaction as one of the many unexplained events experienced in life.
The bottom line here is that medical science is not always able to tell who will react to what. And while it may be a single substance you are reacting to, it may also be the dose that determines the reaction. For some, any amount of intake can cause problems, while others will only react if they take in more than their “threshold” of sensitivity. To further complicate the issue, there may be other foods or medications that change that threshold. Have a set amount of that certain food alone, no problem -- but have that same amount along with another food, or in a particular situation, and you experience the reaction.
There can be quite a detective game afoot, which is why it makes sense to keep a log of all foods consumed to help identify any patterns.
Research studies tend to say what is likely to happen to the “average” individual under a controlled set of circumstances. Such information can provide valuable insight, but regardless of what a study might tell you, we are all unique. Arm yourself with the required knowledge, then collect information about the reaction and the circumstances associated with its occurrence. Then, consult with a trusted health professional to exercise due diligence to chart the path forward.
Science is only as good as the latest study, so as new information and experiences become available, be prepared to reexamine your choices and make the appropriate changes. While it is essential to control items that make us ill, it is best to avoid dubious assumptions that continually shrink the circle of foods we can enjoy.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.