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Why Does My Mouth Get Itchy When I Eat Fruit?

The Horrifying, Unexpected Result of My Juice Cleanse

When I decided to try a juice cleanse, I thought the biggest challenge would be resisting the temptation to eat food. What I did not expect was having to quit on day one and an allergist later telling me that if had I kept at it for any longer, I would have needed to jam an EpiPen into my leg.

The week prior to my immune system's demise, I ordered a three-day juice cleanse from Puree, a local juice bar in Washington DC. The $175 price tag came with a 30-minute phone consultation with an "Affiliated Cleanse Specialist," who gave me tips about my upcoming forfeit of solid foods.

I was connected with nutrition and wellness coach Linda Petursdottir, who prepped me for what to expect over the next few days. The call was very straight forward about the benefits of detoxing, how to transition into a cleanse, and what to eat after juicing. After the call, I was ready to tackle my liquid-only consumption.

The first drink was a harmless variation of fancy lemon water. The second drink, made up of cucumber, kale, and apples, made my mouth a tad itchy. The third — and most tasty — drink is what did me in. There were carrots — and only carrots — in this juice. My mouth and throat started to itch intensely, followed by swelling, which then evolved into difficulty breathing and an uncontrollable, endless cough.

I was committed to completing this expensive, three-day juicing experiment and tried to ignore the dull scream of my immune system telling me, "kale, no!" but the incessant coughing and swollen feeling in my throat wouldn't let me. I pressed pause on the cleanse before my throat could close up and emailed Linda to tell her about my symptoms. She responded simply, "I recommend that you do not continue."

That was that. I returned the remaining juices for a refund and made an appointment with an allergist. Turns out there's a real term for my body's rejection of the juices: Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS). According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), OAS is an allergic reaction that occurs upon contact of the mouth and throat with raw fruits and vegetables. It occurs in about 50 to 70 percent of adults allergic to birch tree pollen: people like myself.

The proteins found in certain fruits and vegetables are extremely similar to the ones found in birch pollen. As a result, the proteins confuse the immune system and cause an allergic reaction. AAAAI calls this "cross-reactivity."

There is no specialised treatment for OAS. I still enjoy an apple here and there, but in moderation and with the skin peeled. If you don't want to avoid certain fruits and vegetables altogether, AAAAI recommends eating them cooked, not raw, since high temperatures break down the proteins responsible for OAS (which is why, for instance, I have never had an allergic reaction to foods like applesauce or cooked carrots).

I wanted to do a juice cleanse because I often eat like crap. In my attempt to reset and try to eat healthier, my body literally obstructed those efforts . . . a twist of fate that led me to the discovery of this obscure syndrome.

For more information on what other foods are associated with OAS, refer to AAAAI's detailed food chart (and cross your fingers your favourite healthy treat isn't on there!).

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography
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