A thoughtful subscriber asked this question. We all want to know exactly what is causing reactions like knowing that the lactose in milk can cause bloating. Unfortunately where food sensitivity is concerned there are many unknown unknowns. You can see how complicated it is by reading my presentation on this very topic, “Known Unknowns” for Ockham’s Razor available here.
I certainly have met many people who were putting a teaspoonful of cinnamon on their breakfast and who had quite severe IBS symptoms. It is important to realize a key idea that, if you are food sensitive, the suspect food chemicals “aggravate the underlying symptom in susceptible people”. My thoughtful subscriber had high BP spikes as his symptom. He thought he was tyramine sensitive since it is more usual for blood pressure changes to happen with high amine, especially tyramine, in foods. His reaction can be any of the amines groups and also cinnamon, and all other spices, which are high in salicylates.
What is the connection? I spent years trying to understand this. It made sense that artificial colours and flavours, benzoate preservatives, and salicylates caused similar reactions as they have similar chemical structures, but this did not explain why 80% of this group also reacted to chocolate. When I researched some toxicology work I learned that both salicylates and amines use metabolic pathways that involve closely related sulphotransferases enzymes. So that gives us the connection.
The other important idea is that a food chemical that some can metabolise well can cause very bad reactions in food sensitive people. Think of all the spice that Indians eat and most people can enjoy at Indian restaurants. Add to that the old pharmacological idea is that “there are no poisonous substances only poisonous doses”. If one part of a spice such as coumarin is extracted as it is thought to be beneficial in some way problems can arise. We can say that it is changed from the food to the “medicine” even a “natural cure” and the useful benefits may be advertised. But there can also be toxic side effects which my thoughtful subscriber found with some research.
What is the general advice? Public health safety regulators such as Food Standards Australian have not banned spices of any kind as there is no public health risk in the amounts normally eaten in food in the population. However many of these generally-regarded-as-safe foods can cause very distressing symptoms in food sensitive people, so those who want more information can enjoy learning more from all of my books available from this site. Lastly, every food sensitive person should test any new prescribed medicine with care. It appears wise to begin with the minimum amount your doctor thinks is necessary. Importantly food sensitive people should regard natural medicines with caution. Either they are harmless so why use them, or they do have an effect that can be helpful in some way but that means they can be toxic in some other way, so find out as much as you can about any side effects before testing them.