Letters to Dr Harry Morrow Brown about potato allergy


Dear Dr. Morrow-Brown,

While surfing the web for information on potato allergy I was very excited to come across your article on potato allergies. It seems as if you have had some extensive hands-on experience with potato allergies. You may be interested in our story.

We have a 25 year old daughter who has suffered from food allergies, including potato, since at least age four. She had been fairly well since we got things under control around age 15, but lately she has once again become very sick and is undergoing more testing. If you are aware of a very GOOD allergist in the mid-western United States I would appreciate their name. Her list of allergies continues to grow and she has a very limited diet. I am suspecting celiac disease. If that becomes true, I have no idea what she will eat.

She was born in 1984 at RAF Lakenheath in the UK while my husband was stationed in the US Air Force. We moved back to the US when she was four.  I suspected she had food allergies around age 2-1/2. At 15 months of age she developed severe asthma. She constantly had eczema, asthma, rashes, swollen mouth or eyes and many other health issues. I BEGGED the base doctors to do allergy testing and they refused. In kindergarten around Thanksgiving her left eye became swollen shut after she cut up a potato for a Thanksgiving feast they helped prepare at school. Light bulb moment. She was left handed and had probably rubbed her eye with potato juice which triggered an allergic reaction. Base doctors still refused to listen. She suffered for years. Even the smell of potatoes would cause her to have an asthma attack.

She was ALWAYS in trouble in school, became very, very agitated at times. She was truly a handful. I always felt her difficult behavior was attributed to food allergies, but doctors did not agree. We managed to get her asthma under control, but at age 14 she became very, very sick and started loosing weight and having excruciating stomach pains.  A very intelligent young girl was doing poorly in school, could not stay awake and became depressed. We sought help from a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. Still no relief.

She was sent to Kansas City to children's hospital to have an upper and lower GI. They found allergic cells in the esophagus but doctor said it was probably a fluke thing and don't worry. Amazingly we were still advised that she did not need allergy testing. That was confirmation for me to once again beg for an allergist. We were able to see an allergist who performed RASP tests on her. The doctor called me herself with the results informing me that her reaction was off the charts. Doctor said her tests measured 53,500 (not sure what unit of measure she used) and that anything over 3,500 was considered a true allergy. The allergist was of no help whatsoever to us. She referred us to the Food Allergy Network and left us on our own. I had not given her potatoes to eat since the Thanksgiving incident around age five so I was baffled why she was had become so sick after being quite stable for several years.

In the meantime, my daughter becomes increasingly sick. At age 14 she was only four foot seven inches tall and weighed 87 pounds. Not thriving at all. We are desperate for help. What is a desperate mother to do? I began my own research on the web. At that time information was very limited. I contacted a US company that had a line of food products tailored for people with food allergies. A nurse for the company told me that potato starch may be in many food items including medications. Another light bulb moment. It was a few weeks after starting the anti-depressant that she started to getting sicker and sicker at her stomach. I called the manufacturer of the anti-depressant and found that it did indeed contain potato starch.

Armed with this new information I went back to the allergist and she informed me that the potato allergy would be to the potato protein and not the potato starch. My motherly instincts told me to check further. I contacted a research scientist who worked for a manufacturer of potato starch. He said there was no way to extract the protein completely from the starch. My own research also found that dextrose can be derived from potatoes. Back to the allergist with this information. She is not agreeing with my findings. I asked for a referral to the Asthma and Allergy Center in Denver, CO and was bluntly refused.

In meantime, the psychiatrist change her anti-depressant to one free of potato starch. She got a little relief, but still sick. I discovered that tomatoes are in the same food family. Allergist informed me that a tomato allergy would be a cross reaction and this rarely happens. At wits' end, we change allergist. The new allergist performed skin tests and found further allergies including tomatoes, peanuts, tobacco.

Removing these foods from her diet improved her dramatically. Asthma attacks became less severe and fewer and farther in between.

Also around age 14, this daughter was diagnosed with gonadal disgensis (not sure of correct spelling) and was placed on human growth hormone until age 17. Her adult height is 5'3". 

This statement from your article caught my attention:
"It is remarkable that I have never found any effects which could be associated with smoking in potato sensitive patients, but I have seen cases where their allergy problems began when they stopped smoking, and this has been observed by others."

My daughter broke out in hives after smoking a cigarette one time in high school. She also breaks out in hives when around tobacco smoke.

Even though my daughter is now a married young adult, my mothering tendencies still kick in. I will refer your article to her. I would be willing to answer any questions you may have concerning our experience.

We are wanting to take our family back to England to visit friends in the Spring or Summer of 2011 but we need to help get our daughter healthy and figure out what she can eat on a plane and in the UK as food labeling may be different there.

We would appreciate any advise, direction, referral, etc that you may be able to give us specifically relating to potato/ tomato food allergies. Maybe some of our findings will support and/or increase your knowledge also.

Thank you for your time



Good Day Dr. Morrow-Brown,

I have just finished reading your website essay on potato intolerance, and had to write to you to tell you of my experiences since discovering my intolerance to nightshades.

There truly is no medical backing for study of this type of intolerance, and I'm sure that there are some strong food lobby groups that would fight it tooth and nail, but if one looks at the typical American diet, then we are awash in nightshade consumption from morning to night. It is no wonder that the arthritis and digestive remedies are flying fast and furious.

When I was approximately 46, and had been suffering repeated bouts of digestive distress where my doctor alternated me between antacid treatments for reflux, or anti-inflammatories for the pains in my joints, and Pink Bismuth was my drink of choice in between.

I had chance to experience a glut of fresh season tomatoes, after a week away from home where I was not consuming them, and was immersed in pain. When I made that link, I began research on the net, and found Dr. Childer's paper.  It was/is a difficult diet to follow, but from September start to end of December, same year, I'd had amazing results. Joint pain had receded, I no longer required antacids, gassiness had almost abated (still have lactose issues), and the constant watering eyes that I'd been experiencing, ceased. 

Because the constant barrage to my intestines had ceased, the fluids that had bulked them up began to drain, and I was suddenly wearing slacks that were two sizes smaller (a wonderful bonus!).  Any consumption will bring a return of symptoms for several days.

I have found that our food producers have made it extremely difficult to avoid potato starch in particular... It is used everywhere, from yogurts, prepared soup broths, pre-shredded cheese is dusted with potato startch. It has changed my purchase habits to where I make much of my own food from scratch, to ensure that I don't get something unwanted. Even something like Worcestershire sauce... one brand might contain pepper where another doesn't.

I wish physicians and scientists would delve into this more than they do. I do feel that they would be on to something...I even wonder about the sticky neurons associated with Alzheimer's disease...I know my head feels clearer now, nightshade-free. Thank you for your website.

First published in 2010

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