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The Cottonseed Oil Industry Responds To "The Awful Truth About Cottonseed Oil"

Back on January 26, 2008 I ran a feature posted both on Progressive Values and on Wizbang Blue dealing with the increased use of cottonseed oil in many food products as many companies seek nontransfat alternatives. My main interest was in addressing the severe food allergy problems it causes me and some other persons. Some comments from others such as Christine, Patrick Bannerman, Steve M and RS Martin described claimed cottonseed allergy symptoms including "hives" and "closing of the air passage". And further a Google search turns up more examples of some in the public who suffer from claimed cottonseed allergy symptoms including allergy skin tests that raised a welt in response to cottonseed oil. Some medical information websites such as www.allergeticchild.com also deal with the issue of cottonseed allergies. It should be understood that many different products may trigger food allergies in some persons in the public. Some may be allergic to soy, others peanuts, some shellfish, wheat, etc, my only interest in addressing the cottonseed issue was an educational discussion of food allergies.

Recently however, Ronnie Gilbert who is the Vice President-Oil Sales of Pyco Industries which is the largest of cottonseed oil producers in the United States which operates in both Lubbock, Texas as well as Greenwood, Mississippi, had some serious concerns about my past feature on cottonseed oil that was run on the two websites. I asked him to provide me with any industry information and I would be happy to offer the industry side of this issue discussion as well.

In one letter dealing with allergens that Vice President Gilbert wrote that, "Currently there are no known allergens in cottonseed oil, based on scientific studies. During the extraction process from the whole cottonseed, the oil does not come into contact with any of the eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans". This is of course absolutely true. However some in science will argue that the protein structure of cottonseed oil itself, although not a tree nut, has many protein structure similarities to some tree nuts or even peanuts, and can act as a trigger to many who suffer from allergies to tree nuts and peanuts, and may also suffer a common allergy to cottonseed oil as well due to these protein structure similarities. For this reason, it would seem wise for the food industry to consider to voluntarily label any product containing cottonseed oil as among the group of known allergens for some persons.

Vice President Gilbert also sent me some detailed industry information dealing with issues such as transfats and heart health. And in this regard, as long as cottonseed oil is not hydrogenated it can be considered to be heart healthy to this extent. However, Wikipedia cautioned that cottonseed oil "does contain over 50% Omega-6 fatty acids and only trace amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the imbalance is considered unhealthy if not used in moderation or balanced elsewhere in the diet". The fact of the matter is that many stores that deal exclusively in health foods will not carry any food products containing cottonseed oil for a variety of health issue reasons unlike other vegetable based oils with less controversy.

Vice President Gilbert also was concerned about how my original piece on cottonseed oil dealt with the issue of a toxic substance known as gossypol which must be either removed or rendered harmless from cottonseed oil during processing to make it nontoxic for human consumption. Gossypol may be used as a pesticide due it's toxic nature to insects. While it is unclear to me what form of cottonseed is actually being used by Pyco in their production of cottonseed oil, research at Texas A&M University has created a genetically engineered variety of cotton plant that will provide against insect damage by merely shutting down the genes in just the cotton plant seeds, but leaving the genes producing gossypol intact in the rest of the plant.

However, gossypol in normal and common cotton plants has been known to have some significant effects on reproduction in both animal and human species. In China, it has been the subject of human reproduction research as it appears to cut down the amount of sperm. And in Bulletin 760-20 from Ohio State University, it was warned that in horse feed, while "Cottonseed oil meal contains about 39% protein on an as-fed basis and is second to soybean oil in quality. If it is available and cost effective, it may be used for horses. Cottonseed oil contains a substance called gossypol that interferes with digestion and is particularly unsuitable for feeding foals. Adult horses can tolerate the gossypol. Research in other species has shown cottonseed oil meal to decrease sperm production in males, and this effect is thought to occur in stallions as well". But some early research on gossypol has been conducted to see if the substance has any purpose as a cancer fighting agent as well, so gossypol is considered an important area of ongoing research.

Certainly the cotton industry has been very resourceful to use science to find new uses for the little cottonseed, which was previously discarded while the rest of the plant found it's way into clothing. However with some who suffer from serious food allergies due to cottonseed allergies, health food stores refusal to sell products with cottonseed oil content, as well as some questions about whether cottonseed oil contains any gossypol or not, and whether or not the cottonseed is from a genetically modified variety or not, and questions about gossypol on reproduction in the male species, cottonseed oil still remains a controversial product although companies such as Pyco had done exhaustive research since 1936 on the little cottonseed.

Cottonseed oil, especially in the nonhydrogenated variety will continue to find itself into more and more food products that seek to get rid of transfats, especially snacks like potato chips and cookies as many companies search for a low cost nonhydrogenated oil to use. However, the strong food allergy potential of the product to some persons who experience tongue swelling, throat tightness, hives or other symptoms which are very similar to peanut allergies will continue to make cottonseed oil a controversial choice for use in some food products for some in the public.

Pyco and other major cottonseed oil producers are very likely to see continued sales growth for their product as a low cost alternative to hydrogenated oils or to transfats. However any industry that uses cottonseed oil in products should also be concerned that some persons do experience serious allergies to cottonseed oil, just as some may suffer from allergies to tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, latex, or a number of other potential allergen products. The food industry should really consider adding a voluntary food allergy warning to packages just like they would soy, wheat, eggs, milk, or other potential allergens to warn some persons who may possibly have a known allergy to cottonseed oil.

Vice President Gilbert has also reported to me that Pyco continues to have research done at the respected Texas Women's University on Cottonseed oil. And Gilbert intends to ask this research department about any information about allergy reactions to cottonseed oil and whether more research needs to be done in this area, which proves a commitment of this company to make cottonseed oil as healthy as possible for use with the public as the food industry demand for oils with no tranfat content grows.

I have every reason to believe that a company like Pyco is concerned with offering a high quality and safe product to the American consumer. And it is very encouraging that Pyco works closely with a respected university in research studies regarding both the safety and for new uses of cottonseed products. Perhaps, new research could even lead to a genetic modification of the cottonseed to remove the allergic component someday, but this is still an important health issue for some like me today in foods, where I have to read every food ingredients label to avoid an allergy reaction to foods containing cottonseed oil like some others do as well.

I would also like to thank Vice President Gilbert for being very helpful in providing me a wide variety of company information and studies dealing with cottonseed oil. It is very encouraging to find companies so cooperative and concerned with the public good as this who rely on independent university research to verify the safety of their products for human consumption.


Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!

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Comments (6)

Lee Ward:

Your first post on cottonseed oil has been one of our most popular posts, Paul. I'm glad to see this follow up to this important topic. Here's a link to the original for anyone interested...

Hi Lee. The Vice President of Pyco was very helpful offering both a wide variety of information for this update as well as a promise to ask Dr. King who is the head of independent research at Texas Women's University about any allergy issues related to cottonseed oil and whether a study should be done to address this issue. This proves an important level of honor on the part of this company to serve the public good since cottonseed oil is becoming more commonplace in more and more foods that seek to replace hydrogenated soybean oils that contain transfats.

I'm happy when a major corporation like Pyco which is a giant in the area of cottonseed oil production is extremely helpful and willing to offer information that helps the public education about the foods we consume and helps to address some health concerns about these controversial products meant to replace existing oils because of transfat concerns. Unfortunately every oil seems to have some health concerns so far it seems. With hydrogenated soybean oil it was heart health and transfats, and with cottonseed oil, it's issues like an allergy potential, gossypol and whether any cotton approved-use pesticides can find their way into the food chain.

Lee Ward:

"Gilbert intends to ask this research department about any information about allergy reactions to cottonseed oil and whether more research needs to be done in this area, which proves a commitment of this company to make cottonseed oil as healthy as possible for use with the public as the food industry demand for oils with no tranfat content grows."

So it appears that Gilbert is flat-out denying any knowledge of allergy concerns over cottonseed oil, is that correct?

Given the number of people who are finding your original article by googling "cottonseed oil allergy" I'd be surprised that this is the first time Pyco has heard of this health concern.

That's what has always concerned me about this entire serious cottonseed issue here, Lee. The industry as a whole has tended to skirt this serious allergy issue and other health concerns about their products. But since I put this issue out on the table on Wizbang Blue, and comments on Wizbang Blue have expressed their allergy concerns as well, at least this one major company is now willing to look at this issue and take some action by having the independent research lab at Texas Women's University look at this issue and possibly do a study into this. This is at least moving this issue into some action, which is something that I had hoped for.

Sometimes it's difficult to use the tail to shake the dog. But with a little public pressure you sometimes can. And to bring the industry towards some action on this important issue to improve the public health is an important first step. If this fails, then getting some sort of government action will be next.

The problem is that with a search for something to replace transfats, another oil with some serious health issue shortcomings has now been elevated into a major position. I still think that a nonhydrogenated version of soybean oil would be the safest oil to use, although there are a few allergy problems with soy with some people as well, although these allergy symptoms tend to be far less severe overall than many cottonseed allergy symptoms. An allergist told me that rapeseed has the worst allergy symptoms that he's ever seen, and he considers this the worst oil of all to use. This allergist has seen life-threatening rapeseed allergies for example. But cottonseed allergies can be quite serious as well. A swollen throat or tongue is certainly not a good thing, and comparable to a peanut allergy reaction for some persons.

Rob B:

Any claim that there are no allergens in cottonseed oil is ridiculous. Any substance that has protein in it has potential allergens in it, as allergy is most generally understood to be a reaction to, or sensitivity to, foreign proteins (though there are also documented reactions to substances allegedly with no proteins in them).

Any claim that only a few specific substances are allergens and that no other substances but the commonly identified ones are potential allergens are equally ridiculous. An allergic condition (and general inclination to allergies) can also be related to the overall state of health. I knew someone with a very autistic child (the condition involves the disruption of many physical systems not just the mental symptoms that generally define it) who could eat only lamb and brown rice. The child was allergic to almost every other food including, for example, broccoli, potatoes and beef.

Exposure method is also important. If a particular food protein in small amounts were to be injected into a random healthy person they may or may not have a reaction depending on numerous factors. Most people eat and digest garlic and its constituents without a problem, but if you were to inject even a small amount of garlic directly into the bloodstream it would kill most people. Such is the nature of that specific substance with a particular exposure method. (Chloroform, alternatively, can be injected into the blood and is less toxic by that exposure method than if it is inhaled, by which route it is much more toxic).

You sometimes see something in old gangster movies that people usually don't comprehend. Mobsters would be shown before a raid on some rival gang rubbing garlic on the tips of their bullets. It was widely known, even in the era portrayed in the films, the 1920s, that if the bullet didn't kill the person the garlic substance entering the blood by itself might kill them.

The foods widely understood to be normal allergens (soy, shellfish, etc.) are simply the ones that 1) are more likely to cause a reaction in people with an apparently otherwise normal level of health and not some underlying condition or general weakness, and are the ones that 2) people and the authorities have generally accepted as allergens because of their obvious visibility, social convention, or for other reasons.

For example, sensitivity to microwave radiation (cellphones and cell tower emissions, for instance) is fairly widespread but largely under-recognized. It has been repeatedly shown in the literature that microwave emissions of this type cause the body to endogenously produce heat-shock proteins and many people can and do people develop sensitivities to those proteins the same as food proteins. This is especially so because these proteins enter the bloodstream immediately just as if they were injected. This is why some people experience the sensation of their ears burning when using cell phones (and other symptoms such as headaches) even though the power level is much less than that of a microwave oven, whose emissions obviously can burn flesh without depending on any particular sensitivity of the organism or material being cooked.

The issue of food, protein, and sensitivities to other substances is much more complex even than this. But if one can understand this level of the issue it will put their understanding of it far beyond that of even the most experienced professional medical practitioners.

Anyone interested in the subject of cottonseed oil allergy might want to try to look for a book, published in the late 1940s, called "Allergy to Cottonseed Oil." It was an industry publication (published by the National Cottonseed Products Association ) so it's geared to make the reader conclude that there is no such thing as cottonseed oil allergy, but there is good info in it. I read it and if I recall, the book consists of mostly testimony from medical people on the subject. The original and complete testimony should be available in government documents since the hearings were held by a government agency. (Incidentally, the argument in the book is that since there should be no cottonseed proteins left in the oil it cannot be an allergen, but this is overly-simplistic and basically inaccurate). The book is generally very hard to find.

There was quite a bit of interest in the subject of cottonseed oil allergy in the late 1940s and 1950s and you can find articles in medical journals and things like that. Here's a few (the book mentioned above is the 2ND item on the list and appears to be only available at 45 libraries):

http://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_all&q=allergy+to+cottonseed+oil

Rob B

Y. Chavez:

It has been six long and sometimes frustrating years going from doctors, ENT(ear, nose,throat) specialists, to allergists to find out that I am allergic to cottonseed oil, sesame oil, and palm kernel oil. Through a strict food diary I was able to conclude that my symptoms of a swollen face (left, right, or both cheeks) was due to consuming products with these oils.
The symptoms start with an itchiness in my cheeks and then within a few hours, depending on how much of the product I have consumed, to large swollen cheeks. The first time it occurred I went straight to the emergency room. I was then told that it may be a blocked salivary duct. That led me down a journey of specialists, tests, an MRI and of course no diagnosis except for a referral to an allergist.
I now am a serious "label-reader" of every product that I purchase. I have noticed one product that does list cottonseed oil as a potential allergen. It is Las Palmas Enchilada Sauce. I am grateful for the information because it was a product that I trusted and used when making enchiladas for my family. As much as my family and I liked the product, we have had to switch to a sauce with natural ingredients and no added oils.
What prompted me to write today, is that I am sitting here with, once again, a swollen face due to consuming BBQ boneless chicken wings that I purchased at the deli counter at my local Safeway grocery store. Here, ingredients were not posted. It was not until I called the store and asked the deli manager what type of oil was used that she got back to me with the culprit oil-Cottonseed Oil. I know I need to be more vigilant when I eat anything, but it would also be helpful for those that sell food to also be responsible and have potential allergic ingredients visibly posted.
As for those that deny Cottonseed Oil as a potential allergen, I wish I could post a picture of my swollen face as proof.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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