Can you be allergic to mealworms?

by | Apr 30, 2020 | Entomophagy | 0 comments

TL;DR: Yes, mealworms share allergens with crustacean shellfish, so if you are allergic to shellfish like shrimp, you may be allergic to mealworms as well.

Thinking about the initial scope of this blog about the future of food, I wondered about several subjects I would like to either write about out of personal experience or find out about because I just don’t know.

One of those subjects is future food versus allergies, in this case specifically the allergy to mealworms. Can you be allergic to mealworms? And if so, is there anything you can do about it?

Let’s just start breaking it down.

What are allergies?

Allergies, or allergic diseases, are conditions caused by sensitivity of the immune system to substances that are usually deemed harmless. Common allergy symptoms include itchy rash, a runny nose, shortness of breath, sneezing, red eyes or swellings. CausesĀ can be food related, but it should be mentioned that there’s a difference between food allergy and food intolerance.

Let’s briefly get into that next.

What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

As mentioned, a food allergy is caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to certain substances. The immune system then reacts by affecting organs in the body. The symptoms of a food allergy can be quite severe or even life threatening.

In contrast, food intolerance is not caused by sensitivity of the immune system, but can have variety of causes. These are some examples of causes of food intolerance:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Sensitivity to certain food additives
  • Stress or other psychological conditions
  • A lack of an enzyme needed to digest food fully

Also, the symptoms of food intolerance are different from food allergies. Food allergies can cause symptoms like a rash, runny nose or swellings, while food intolerance symptoms include nastiness like diarrhea, migraine or coughing. There are certainly similarities to symptoms of food allergy and food intolerance, but there’s usually a great difference in intensity.

Allergy food groups

Food allergies are most commonly caused by the following general food groups:

  • Cows’ milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish like prawns (not to be confused with mollusk shellfish like mussels)
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat

That being said, let’s get cracking on sensitivity to mealworms in particular.

Can you be allergic or intolerant to mealworms?

Mealworm shells contain the same Chitin allergen as shrimp and lobster.

In short: yes, you can be allergic to mealworms. There doesn’t seem to be any information about an intolerance, so any symptoms after eating mealworms seem to be caused by a specific allergy.

As it turns out, mealworms are related to crustacean shellfish, meaning it is possible to be allergic to mealworms if you are allergic to shellfish like prawns, shrimp or crab. Apparently mealworms share certain allergens with these crustacean shellfish that can be the cause of symptoms if you carry the allergy. A specific similar allergen is “Chitin” which is a component of shellfish shells and apparently also the exoskeleton of mealworms.

Is it possible to eliminate reactivity to mealworms if you’re allergic?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to completely eliminate your reaction to mealworms if you’re allergic, although the reaction intensity may be diminished somewhat after proper heat processing, according to a Dutch 2016 study.

What is your experience with allergies and mealworms?

As I don’t have an allergy to mealworms myself, or any allergy for that matter, it would be great to get some discussion going about your experience regarding the subject of mealworm allergies. Any experience with allergies related to entomophagy is more than welcome in the comments below.

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