Key Allergens

The key food allergen in sunflower seed allergy is Hel a 3. Hel a 3 is a Lipid Transfer Protein (LTP). These proteins are resistant to heat and are found in many types of plants. Patients suffering from a more severe allergy to cooked fruit may be sensitised to this group of proteins. Sunflower oil is highly processed, but those who are very sensitive to lipid transfer proteins may still have allergic symptoms to sunflower oil.

There are 3 other defined allergens and they are all linked to airway allergies for sunflowers. You can read more on the sunflower pollen page.

Hel a 2 is a profilin protein and Hel a 6 is a Pectate Lyase. Profilin proteins are considered panallergens as those sensitised to them can get allergic reactions to multiple foods or pollens containing them.

Newer studies have shown that sunflower seeds contain defensin proteins.

Sunbutter is a peanut butter alternative for those people suffering from peanut allergies. The main ingredient is sunflower seeds. There is usually a lot of cross reactivity between nuts and seeds and sunflower seeds have been shown to contain 2S seed storage proteins which are the main protein responsible for causing nut allergies. Some people allergic to nuts are allergic to the LTP and profilin proteins in nuts, these people may have cross reactions with sunflower seeds.

Food Intolerances

Food is low in FODMAP Food is low in salicylates Food is medium in lectins

Sunflowers seeds are a low FODMAP food. FODMAP stands for Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Foods high in FODMAPs can cause symptoms of food intolerance, affecting the gastro intestinal system and this can be mistaken for a true IgE food allergy.

Sunflower seeds are low in salicylates. Salicylates have the potential to cause gastrointestinal food intolerance symptoms in people who are sensitive to salicylates.

Sunflower seeds contain a moderate amount of lectins, another cause of food intolerance. Cooking foods with lectins makes them more digestible and can reduce the symptoms of food intolerance.

You can read more about Food Intolerances on the dedicated Food Intolerance Page.

Associated Syndromes

This allergy can be loosely linked to LTP syndrome. You may be suffering from LTP Syndrome if you have reactions to various fruits, vegetables and nuts and your reactions continue to be severe after you have discarded the peel and have cooked the food.

Contact with sunflowers can also cause contact allergic dermatitis due to the sesquiterpene lactones in the plant.

Cross Reactivity

Common foods involved in LTP allergy include kiwi, strawberries, sunflower seeds, walnut, apple, mulberry, banana, pea, apricot, cherry, plum, almond, peach pomegranate, raspberry, tomato, grape, celery, peanut, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, chestnut, lemon, tangerine, orange, hazelnut, lettuce, lentils, lupin, green bean, pear, mustard, wheat and maize.

Other foods containing 2S seed storage proteins are peanuts, cashews, brazil nut, mustard, pecan, hazelnut, soya beans, walnut, pistachio, sesame, almonds, kiwi, turnip, pumpkin, sichuan pepper, rapeseed, buckwheat, flaxseed, castor beans, mung bean, chickpea and pine nuts.

Other foods containing defensin proteins include celery, peanuts and chestnuts.

If you are affected by the pollen of sunflowers then you may also react to the pollen of these plants which also contain airborne profilin proteins. These are pigweed, ragweed, wormwood, birch tree, hemp, crocus, olive rice, grass, plantain, poplar, mesquite, oak tree and maize (corn).

Airborne pollen which also contains pectate lyase includes cypress, ragweed, wormwood and cedar trees.

Please note these food and pollen lists are not completely exhuastive, you can find the most up to date information on the Cross Reactivity Tool.



DermNet NZ - Sunflower

DermNet NZ - Compositae Plant Allergy

Allergen Encyclopedia - Sunflower Seeds

Lipid Transfer Proteins (LTP Syndrome)

Understanding Your Sunflower Allergy

Allergy information for: Sunflower seed (Helianthus annuum)

ASCIA - Peanut, Tree Nut and Seed Allergy

Anaphylaxis Campaign - Vegetable Oils

FODMAPedia - Sunflower Seeds

ATP Science - Salicylate Foods

Articles and Journals

Sunflower seed allergy: Identification of novel 2S-albumins as potential marker allergens, 2024

Oral immunotherapy with sunflower seed butter and a review of seed allergy, 2024

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Seed Allergy, 2024

The Role of Defensins as Pollen and Food Allergens, 2023

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Seed Allergy: A Case Series, 2023

The rising status of edible seeds in lifestyle related diseases: A review, 2022

Anaphylaxis to Sunflower Seed with Tolerance to Other Nuts. The Role of Lipophilic Allergens, 2022

Open Sesame: shedding light on an emerging global allergen, 2022

Lipid Transfer Protein allergy in the United Kingdom: Characterization and comparison with a matched Italian cohort, 2019

Sunflower seed allergy, 2016

Hypersensitivities to sesame and other common edible seeds, 2016

Allergy to sunflower seed and sunflower butter as proposed vehicle for sensitization, 2015

Sunflower Seed Food Allergy as a Co-allergy With Peanut, 2007

Sunflower Seed Allergy, 2006

Influence of refining steps on trace allergenic protein content in sunflower oil, 2000

Sunflower oil is not allergenic to sunflower seed-sensitive patients, 1986

Let me know if you found any of these interesting or useful. If you spot an article or research that you think is interesting you can message me or tag me on Facebook or Twitter - links at the bottom of the page.

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