Sometimes I Feel Like A Nut – Fresh Tastes by Bev
By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB
Next to chocolate, I think the food I miss the most is peanut butter. Boy, do I miss those little chocolate covered peanut clusters! Of course, I’m also fond of peanut butter sandwiches and long threads of Thai noodles crowned with spicy peanut sauce. And once again this winter I know I’ll again have to forgo those scrumptious cookies with walnuts and macadamias. Ah well, at least I’m not alone in my abstinence. Not only do thousands of us with IC avoid nuts, but according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nuts (especially peanuts) are among the foods Americans are most commonly allergic to.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Why should people with IC care whether or not nuts are allergenic?” Well, there may be an IC-allergy connection. Studies and surveys conducted in the last ten years have revealed that somewhere between 25% to 45% of people with IC also have allergies that they know about. This isn’t really surprising, since both allergies and interstitial cystitis involve cells of our immune system called mast cells. And curiously, we sometimes experience our bladders acting up when our allergies do.
The mast cell connection
Mast cells are found in many places in the body, but they’re most abundant where our body meets the outside environment (remember that when we breathe or eat, the “outside” world comes in). We have mast cells in our bladders and our skin. They’re in tissues that line our nasal passages, lungs, and intestinal tract. And when activated mast cells are provoked, they can release inflammation-causing substances into the surrounding area. That may mean you get a rash or have trouble breathing whenever you eat a food you’re allergic to. But according to allergists, you can also experience other symptoms too: an itching or tingling on the roof of your mouth, a runny nose or postnasal drip during or after a meal. You may have itchy skin, ear canals, or eyes, or you may get some abdominal cramping or bloating. These symptoms all occur because mast cells are reacting to the food or a breakdown product of it.
Many IC patients add bladder symptom flare-ups to their personal list of food allergy troubles. One IC patient (who also has IBS and fibromyalgia) describes her reaction to a food she’s allergic to this way:
“The foods on the IC diet make my bladder worse, and that’s pretty much it. But when I eat the stuff I’m allergic to it’s much, much worse… it’s like my whole body goes crazy and the bladder pain’s just part of it. It starts while I’m eating. I get this “burny” feeling in my mouth… like the roof of my mouth is becoming raw. Then I notice my nose is running and my tongue has these sore, red spots on it. About an hour or so after the meal, I get the acid indigestion…. and no amount of Tums or Mylanta seems to help. By three or four hours after the meal I’ve got some pretty bad gas and intestinal cramps too. Then about ten or twelve hours later my bladder starts in… first a soreness, then it’s really on fire! When I pee it feels like knives cutting my urethra. Sometimes I’ll get a kind of vaginal itchiness too– and if it’s at night, I might wake up with hot flashes, which I haven’t had in years. My stools will turn yellow, I’ll get muscle spasms in my legs, and sites of old injuries will start hurting again (after 20 years!). The next day, my fibromyalgia is really bad too. The next few days I’m just dead tired no matter how much sleep I got, I can’t think straight, and I’m so stiff and sore I can hardly move. It takes a week or two for everything to calm down again.”
Although her experience may be more dramatic than most, it certainly points out that for IC patients, bladder pain can be one of the symptoms triggered by food allergies.
For IC patients, peanuts (a legume, not a true nut) and most tree nuts are troublemakers whether we are allergic to them or not. No one has yet figured out why they make our bladders hurt. It may or may not be related to allergies. However, given that nuts tend to be allergenic, we certainly have reason to be cautious, and particularly so if we have any other known food allergies.
I hate giving up my favorite nuts… not just for the taste, but because they are high in fiber too (which can offset the constipating effects of some medications). They also have one other benefit for some people: nuts tend to be high in the amino acid, arginine. Dietary supplementation with L-arginine (a form of arginine) may be helpful in a subset of IC patients who have a history of bladder infections, according to one study published last year in the Journal of Urology