Does Palm Oil Cause Allergic Reactions?

Recently, Best Food Facts reader Natalie submitted a question about palm oil regarding whether it causes allergic reactions.To answer the question,we reached out to Dr. Steve L. Taylor, Professor, Food Science & Technology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dr. Taylor:

In my opinion, palm oil would be rather unlikely to be the cause of a food allergy. Food allergies are caused by proteins, and oils typically contain very low levels of protein. The likelihood of allergic sensitization to these proteins seems very low to non-existent, in my opinion. And, we don’t typically eat other foods derived from palm species, so sensitization by that route also seems unlikely. Coconut is a product of palm trees but coconut oil and palm oil are derived from different species of palm.

Natalie also asked whether there have been scientific studies on palm oil allergies.

Dr. Taylor:

No, palm oil allergy has not been described in clinical literature. That said, coconut allergy is described in clinical literature, but it’s not common, and it is the only allergy to a food from the palm family. Coconut oil is not known to be allergenic, even in those with coconut allergy, because of its very low protein content.

Dr. Taylor recommended that Natalie ask an allergist about her palm oil allergy suspicions. He suggested that because palm oil is not eaten alone, but rather as an ingredient, there might be allergic reactions to another ingredient in the food.

If you are experiencing problems you think are associated with palm oil or allergies, please visit your physician or allergist.

Have a question about food?  Ask your question, and we’ll have an expert respond!

Flowering Palm, Torquay” by Torquay Palms is licensed under CC BY SA.

  • impaler

    Seems very suspicious. Had an allergic reaction to orville redenbacher popcorn and its not the corn as I can have corn flakes…the next ingredient is palm oil. Water doesnt have protein yet there are people that are allergic to that.

    • DeadHead

      A lot of those things are processed in the same areas as tree nuts and other things. Could have been cross contaminated with that.

      • impaler

        its a possibility, but if i eat, say, cashews, it doesnt happen

      • impaler

        No as I can eat tree nuts like cashews no problem.

  • Ellie Ramsden

    This is very misleading. I have a palm oil intolerance, when I eat it my stomach bloats very badly and I get very bad pain. I also get contapted. These symptoms can last days. Palm oil intolerances are real – it just hasn’t been researched properly yet.

    • DNYCE

      Yes. I basically had to perform a feel test. I ate the food containing the ingredient and wallah- there was the problem. of course i also ate the food item without the palm oil and no problem. I just hate the itchy feeling i get all over. i have to keep scratching and my hair gets really thin too.

    • D Schulz

      I cut dairy out of my diet about 4 years ago. Looking for sugary treats without dairy or with very little was difficult. Two “OK” products were Oreo’s (No dairy) and Recees Pieces (some listed under 2% or less).

      Now that I don’t have the symptoms of dairy in my diet (constipation and gas) I notice that these two products specifically cause me SMELLY gas. It passes quickly but its definitely there.

      Next to nothing online about palm kernel oil or palm oil intolerance, and I don’t have a histamine allergic type reaction. Just glad to see someone else talk about it.

  • Ryan Williams

    I can’t breath right for a couple days anytime i eat anything with palm kernel oil

  • Kim_T

    I have a bad reaction every time I eat anything with dates, palm oil, palm fruit or palm kernel oil in the label. I get hives in isolated areas, typically where my clothes fit tightest and it lasts for over a week and I may also have small psoriasis lesions pop up in a few places (typically my scalp) . I discovered this allergy when I substituted Smart Balance Butter (key ingredient, palm fruit) for regular butter in my family’s diet about 10 years ago. After about two weeks of using the smart balance butter, I had hives from head to toe, rash on top of hives, my hair, eye lashes, eye brows and body hair was getting noticeably thinner, and my psoriasis exploded! It took me several months to recover, even after I put myself on a gluten-free diet. I remained on the gluten free diet for two years. I have been allergy tested for common allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts and gluten- all negative. I have purposely tested my reactions over the years, only to find that palm dates, palm kernel, palm oil, and to a lesser extend coconut products, do indeed cause an allergic reaction every time. I have also unknowingly consumed foods with these products, and gotten the same reaction….only to find the culprit in the label after the reaction ensued. I can eat all tree nuts and peanuts with no issues. This is real…you are not alone. Check every label because palm is in more foods than you can imagine, and manufacturers often change the oils in their products for no apparent reason…so even foods that were once safe, could become unsafe and vice versa. I have found that more food manufacturers tend to be moving away from palm oil….yay!

    • DNYCE

      I have similar reactions to coconut oil which i was using in cooking and palm oil in snack chips. My scalp gets real itchy and i can’t stop scratching. Also, my eyes get irritated and red and it’s hard to focus. I have to go further and avoid tree nuts though. Seeds are ok as long as they haven’t been roasted in some kind of oil.

  • Claudia Matei

    Every time I eat something with palm oil I get undereye bags, a sign that I have too much histamine in my body; apparently palm oil activates mast cells in me – not a good thing at all! I am sure this oil aggravates my dermatographia. There must be something really bad about this oil to aggravate any allergies.

    • kathie ellis

      Did this happen to you with coconut oil?

      • ClaudiaM

        My recent experience is with palm oil – it’s in every single thing that you buy from stores (biscuits, cakes, pies etc). I did try coconut oil in the past and it made my skin break out slightly. I’m even afraid to try coconut oil.
        On a side note, I react badly to anything that has COX-2 inhibitory effect (salicylate sensitivity?). There is a study showing that a certain fraction of palm oil acts as a COX-2 inhibitor. I also believe that exposure to COX-2 inhibitors will lead to digestive problems in those genetically predisposed.
        At this point I’m looking for oils that are safe for those with mast cell activation syndrom.

    • Kimberly Smith

      Me too! And my face gets puffy, thought I was going crazy so am relieved that I am not alone in my self diagnosis!

  • pitbull123

    In the bad old days, when chocolate was made with cocoa fat I never had indigestion from it. Now I get chronic acidity and GERD from chocolate. If I eat a VERY expensive non palm nut oil chocolate, my stomach is happy and I have no symptoms. I even tried to prove my point with coffee creamers (which taste awful on their own) and I get really and acidity and GERD. So now I read all labels and eat NOTHING which contains palm nut oil or is cooked in palm nut oil.
    My indigestion is almost non existent.

  • Judy Hulse Carter

    Palm oil intolerances are real, every time i eat any thing with it in it my throat swells, i have to read every thing when i go to the store cause they have been adding this to stuff that i use to be able to eat, it is a life threatening thing for me

  • Laila Shaibi

    I get hives and itch all over my body any time I eat coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. It’s the worst on my forearms, stomach, and neck, but I get them everywhere. At first I thought I was allergic to chocolate, but I noticed I only had symptoms after eating certain kinds of chocolate and not others, so I knew it had to be something else. Over time I started noticing that I would have reactions to certain foods or snacks, and all seemed to contain one of the 4 ingredients Iisted above. So I tested the theory and sure enough, I found out that those ingredients were the cause of my grief. My sister raves about the benefits of coconut oil and didn’t believe me when I told her I was allergic. To prove my point, I let her rub cold compressed coconut oil on my forearm, and within seconds, the red hives appeared. So, yes, the allergy is real! And it’s almost impossible to find foods without those ingredients in them unless you’re eating meat, fish, fruits, and veggies. I have been suffering from stomach issues and GERD for a couple years now, and hair loss for about the same amount if time. I knew it had to do with my diet, but I didn’t realize it could be from this allergy. Nor did I know that the blurry vision I’ve been experiencing lately could be from it either. So, thank for sharing guys!

  • Marsha Potter

    Came across an article about Palm oil- Palm oil is a common ingredient in most snack foods because its CHEAP. Had a another bad itching episode tonight after eating 2 milky ways. Checked ingredients and sure enough Palm oil. Skin all over my body itching including my scalp. I eat coconut and use coconut oil for cooking with no problem.

  • Kimberly Smith

    So glad I am not alone! I used to buy those healthier versions of Corn nuts from my local Natural Foods store, 3 organic ingredients, corn, salt, Palm oil. My face gets really puffy and dark dark circles under my eyes when I ate them. Same with the organic microwave popcorn, it’s not corn and its not salt. Good to know!!

  • Dennene

    There are several other names that are used instead of palm that are actually palm See (A hidden ingredient with over 200 names) I have been allergic to palm for several years also coconut oil and nuts. Now I have noticed I have a reaction to medicine. I looked up the ingredients and in amoxicillin tablet it has three or four ingredients that is made from palm. Some medicines are coated with palm leaves. Liquid medicines don’t have as much palm. Only one ingredient so I don’t react as much, as for now anyway, but I am worried because if it’s gets worse, I don’t know what I will do when I get strep or whatever and need medicine. I have discovered several other things that have palm in it. Most cereals because they add palmate which is palm. Milk has palmate added. Most cereals have palmate. shredded wheat cereal doesn’t. Margarine does. (Palm oil) Butter does but says palmate. It’s so annoying. I did find pure powder vitamins that way it doesn’t have magnesium stearate. (Made from palm) if no magnesium stearate they will use carnaubawax.