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 palmoilinvestigations.org. (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.

  • thornnnn

    I am allergic to palm oil and or one or some of it’s derivatives. I stopped eating everything except rice and hamburger and water. then added suspect foods back in one at a time. I isolated it to palm oil and it’s derivatives. I had a reaction once where palm oil was not listed.. but researching the ingredients i found it.. malic acid.. palm oil derivative. Also in another seperate instance, palmetic acid. Some of these things can be found from other sources than palm oil.. and tho called the same thing i do not have a reaction. but if it source was palm oil tree .. then i have the reaction. Yes you can MOST DEFINITELY be allergic to palm oil. also when they reduce the fat in milk.. low fat.. they also take out vitamin A in the process. and they have to “reinsert” vitamin a” they use palm oil derivative to do this. so i ONLY drink whole milk (red top). My symptoms are hellish. anywhere i have callus, palms heels etc.. i get a terrible terrible itching. I have to take power tools and still cant stop the itching. I do not experiment enough to know if it also caused the facial swelling tongue lips .. the thing that hangs down in your throat was so large it hung out of my mouth.. i had to stay awake to ensure i wouldn’t swallow it.. if i did i could “cough it back out of my mouth. I suspect i am also allergic to tree nuts and that this later symptoms/reaction were more severe than the typical itching cus it was tree nuts. I am also allergic to garlic which like palm oil causes itching. One interesting phenomenon is if i feel the twinges and onset in my fact if i pinch part of my face THAT PART SWELLS. as if the body is looking for something to attack with the immune system. i hit my leg once and my leg swelled up.. i pinch my right lip the right lip swells up.. so to some extent i seem to be able to control what does the swelling. again i do not have enough experience with this to confirm anything.. as i do not intentionally subject myself to risk and hellish torture. I’s just when i find another substance that came from a palm tree.. or something not suspected to have garlic in it.. i usuallyf ind out when i have the reaction and go back and read the lables. but for absolute certainty i am allergic to something that’s in palm oil.

  • Allergy Mom

    I think there are a few things the doctor isn’t considering. First, exposure to palm oil used to be rare. However, with companies moving away from hydrogenated oils, exposure is increasing exponentially because most companies are substituting palm and palm kernel oil for hydrogenated soybean oil. Another issue is the way palm oil is processed — it’s almost never highly refined. Palm oil and palm kernel oils are extruded or expeller pressed — which results in oil with some protein. The same is true for peanut oil — most peanut oils are fine for those with peanut allergies, except for gourmet oils, which tend to be extruded or expeller pressed. Regardless of what this person’s opinion is, I am unquestionable allergic to both palm and palm kernel oil, with reactions of swelling and itching in my mouth and soft palate and sneezing. I avoid it like the plague now.

  • judith smith

    Hi all !
    It is rubbish for a doctor to say that palm oil does not or is unlikely to cause allergic reactions , especially when he hasnt had experience of it himself or shown any scientific evidence or research
    I have taken nearly 4 years to discover that my embarassing allergic reaction, in the form of upset and irritable bowel type symptoms and an urgent need to go to the toilet upto an hour after eating any foods containing it !
    This discovery took so long due to a government, who take no interest in what is added to our foods as long as they are listed at great length on our non ecological food packaging !
    I went thro blood tests , elimination diets , excluding all the ‘known and common’ allergens which improved symptoms to a degree and showed me that I need to avoid garlic onions and apples and artificial sugars such as dextrose sucrose etc.
    But no reaction to wheat , nut , soya , lactose etc !
    But then I started to realise that some foods that I had bought and eaten for many years , one being Cadburys chocolate had an ingredient in it that I had heard about in ecoligical and sustainability duscussions, PALM OIL! So I started researching why a product that threatens a rare species and needs to be grown in sustainable forests, which used to be in our cleaning products, detergents and soaps was now being added to our foods?
    The answers were to make things like chocolate and sauces and other ready made foods more smooth and glossy in appearance and texture ????!!!!!
    Do the same people who allow such products to be used in food not think there shoukd be tests as to their effect on the nations health , immediate and long term ????!!
    I work.in the health service and am sure there is a big increase in the incidence of bowel related conditions due to this sort of irresponsible permissable addition to the food we ingest .
    Their justification?
    It is cheap!
    Is the cost to our health irrelevant ??!!
    Cadbury was bought by an American company and PALM OIL is now in nearly all their products .
    Fortunately, some own brand chocolate like Tesco , are palm oil free !
    Chocolate is just one example of this , bread , cakes , ice cream , etc etc increasingly are having palm oil added !
    Shopping is time consuming , but I can buy my whole shop palm oil free !
    And have healthy bowel habits again!
    Tgen I get asked out to dinner by friends or to a restaurant and who is the embatassed guest who asjs where the loos are first ??!!
    I am seriously going to write to the Health Minister with all this information, but if we dont get enough backing nothong will be done !
    There must be lots of people who after an episode of an upset tummy or urgent dash to find the loo after eating out , just think there must be something ‘off’ in their food !!
    So.lets do sonething ro eradicate this product from our food !!