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Can Food Allergies Cause Swelling in the Brain?

author image Shannon Marks
Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.
Can Food Allergies Cause Swelling in the Brain?
Allergies that affect the brain won't necessarily have symtpoms. Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Food allergies occur in about 6 to 8 percent of kids under the age of 5 and up to 4 percent of adults, according to MayoClinic.com. A food allergy, unlike intolerance, is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Symptoms include digestive problems, hives and restricted airways. Allergies that cause brain swelling are known as cerebral allergic edema.

Allergies and the Brain

Allergies that cause swelling in the lining of brain are typically caused by entire food groups, according to "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," by certified nutritional expert Phyllis A. Balch. The most common offenders include corn, wheat, rice, milk, chocolate and certain food additives. People with cerebral allergic edema are also susceptible to co-occurring disorders, such as headaches, aggression, violence or schizophrenia. According to Dr. Russell Roby, of the Roby Institute Allergy Treatment Center in Austin, Texas, almost all allergy symptoms are, to an extent, related to swelling and most of the headaches he sees in his allergy practice are caused by swelling, which can lead to increased pressure in the brain.

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Mental Health

Most mental disorders are attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain, according to a 2000 article published in "The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine." Brain allergy is a term that originated to describe psychiatric symptoms triggered by diet or environmental causes. Coffee, tea, chocolate and some spices are actually neuroactive foods that can cause a pathologically debilitating condition that impacts the brain. The fact that some psychiatric illnesses also cause physical symptoms like weight gain, tremors and dry mouth led researchers to theorize that psychiatric disorders and allergies may be linked.


Stewart Hare, an early childhood educator, writes on ChildrensDisabilities.info that the brain is one of the main organs affected by allergies, along with the lungs, sinuses and heart. Since the brain is also one of the most sensitive organs in the body, it's easily affected by allergies and can result in symptoms as mild as forgetfulness and as serious as dementia. In the 1990s, experts began investigating the link between cerebral allergies and immune system deficiencies. In 2002, Dr. Jeremy E. Kaslow, whose medical practice is based in Santa Ana, California, published a report about celiac disease and mental illness and how tissues in the brain can produce chemicals that can cause and increase brain inflammation.


Brain tissue has no feeling. Kaslow reports that the brain is not designed to signal when changes occur. When the body experiences swelling of the skin or other organs, we experience hives, itching or pain, usually from the increased blood flow to the site. This doesn't happen in brain unless it's severe. Symptoms of inflammation caused by allergens include unusual behaviors, changes in hunger or sexuality, sudden emotional disruptions and altered perceptions. In a small, informal study of celiac disease patients, all reported some delayed learning and cognitive or emotional symptoms prior to treatment for their gluten sensitivity.

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