NZ raises allergy issue for supplement users

Related tags Food allergy

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is warning users of
dietary supplements containing lecithin to check whether the
product is safe for them to take if they are allergic to eggs or
soy, the common sources of the ingredient.

Lecithin is used widely in foods as an emulsifier, stabiliser, and antioxidant. It is also the main ingredient in some supplements as a source of phosphatidylcholine, which breaks down into the B vitamin choline. Phosphatidylcholine, a major structural component of brain cells, is commonly recommended for treating a variety of liver, nerve, memory, and other conditions, including multiple sclerosis and memory loss.

However the NZFSA said that it has found some dietary supplements containing lecithin do not clearly label the source of the ingredient, ie from soy or egg.

Eggs and soy are two of eight foods that account for 90 per cent of all food allergies in New Zealand according to Allergy New Zealand, which says it took more than 90,000 contacts and requests for help and information relating to food allergies during 2002.

"Soy and egg are common allergens, so for some people dietary supplements containing lecithin may not be safe. Consumers need to be advised, through adequate labelling, when food allergens are present,"​ NZFSA director of domestic and imported food, Tim Knox, said.

He added that there have not been any consumer complaints about allergic reactions to these products but consumers who may be concerned about this are advised to seek clarification from the manufacturer of the product they are using.

While there have been few reported clinical cases of allergic reactions to soy lecithin, there is evidence to show that it contains a number of IgE-binding proteins and that it therefore might represent a source of hidden allergens. These allergens are a more significant concern for soy-allergic individuals consuming lecithin products as a health supplement. And more and more people are reporting food allergies, according to a recent study by research firm Mintel.

It showed that the food intolerance and allergies market in the UK has grown 165 per cent since 2000 and is set to more than double in value by 2007, reaching £138 million (€202m). This has been driven by a growing number of consumers who perceive that they have a food allergy/intolerance.

The NZFSA​ also used the case to highlight allergen labelling in general for supplement users."Similarly there may be other ingredients in dietary supplements that may cause an allergic reaction in some people and we would advise them to contact the manufacturer for clarification if they are concerned,"​ continued Knox.

"We are in the process of working with the dietary supplement industry on this issue,"​ he added.

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