You know its durian season once again, when the aroma of durians permeates the air when you walk around your favourite fruit stalls. You can find row upon row of D24, D101, D13, Mao Shang Wang (popularly known as Musang King), Black Pearl, etc. all conveniently deshelled, wrapped and packed in neat plastic trays, ready to be eaten on the spot or taken home for consumption later.
Few people realize that durian, or any fruit for that matter, can cause allergies to certain people. An allergic reaction is an immune system reaction that occurs after ingesting a certain food.
Allergic reactions normally happen fairly quickly, as this is the body’s way of rejecting a certain food, which in some cases, can be life-threatening. Look out for symptoms of allergic reactions in the following forms:
- hives – a sudden outbreak of pale red bumps on the skin that are normally itchy or have a stinging sensation
- nasal congestion / runny nose
- airway constriction, i.e., difficulty breathing / choking
- swollen lips
An extremely dangerous allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, must be medically attended to immediately. Anaphylaxis is an acute allergic reaction when the body becomes hypersensitive to a toxin, in this case, durian. Symptoms can be a combination of some of the above reactions and:
- hypotension – low blood pressure
- weak or rapid pulse
Can durians actually cause allergies?
Even though cases of durian allergy are rare, “there are a few cases of suspected durian allergies during the durian season. Based on research literature, there is only one study that looked into durian allergies” said Dr Benjamin Loh, resident doctor at DTAP Clinic Bencoolen.
Durian allergy is not a recent development; it is just that cases have not been highlighted in the past.
Jaclyn Reutens, Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants dietician, believes it is possible the durian’s sulphur content causes the allergy in certain people, “because there are individuals who are allergic to sulphur”.
Reutens elaborated further saying, “Other than sulphur compounds, I do not see any other component in durians that could possibly trigger any reactions”.
True blue durian enthusiasts may try different ways to overcome an allergy, the most common method being to consume more durian in the hope of desensitising their bodies to offset the allergy.
Some enthusiasts go a step further by taking antihistamines before a durian feast, to prevent an allergy from flaring up. However, Dr Loh says it is best not to resort to this, saying, “If a person has a history of severe allergic reaction to durian, it is not advisable. There is no way to predict how the next allergic reaction will turn out, especially when there’s a potential of a life-threatening allergic reaction”.
Alcohol and durian – a deadly combination?
On the danger of drinking alcohol while eating durians, Ms Reutens said “One clinical study showed that a key enzyme for alcohol metabolism was inhibited in the presence of high sulphur levels, which resulted in heart palpitations and vomiting”. This could be why certain individuals felt unwell after taking both alcohol and durian together.
Dr Loh offered another explanation, saying some individuals have an enzyme deficiency that is inherited, which reduces the body’s liver process and break down alcohol. Durians may contain chemicals that further inhibit the liver from breaking down alcohol.
How about a durian-mangosteen combination?
Durian is thought of as a “heaty” fruit, and mangosteen is considered a “cooling” fruit, hence the combining of both fruit in the thought of offsetting the heatiness of durian.
According to Dr Loh, “From a medical point of view, mangosteen’s Vitamin C content is an advantage, providing the body with a water-soluble (easily absorbed) antioxidant, while warding off infections and scavenging harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals,”, and he said there is no harm eating mangosteens with or without durian.
A few last comments from Ms Reutens on durians: “The bitter varieties are slightly lower in calories due to their lower carbohydrate content than the sweeter varieties. Nonetheless, this is not a reason to overindulge in the bitter varieties because durian is still an energy-dense fruit. Especially for those who are diabetic, the carbohydrates in durian will cause a sharp rise in their blood sugar levels.”
This article is to highlight that certain individuals can suffer allergies from eating durian, and their combinations with alcohol and mangosteen. It is in no way meant to be taken as medical advice, for which consultation with a medical practitioner is needed, especially if one has underlying health issues.
7th July 17:50