Are My Allergies All in My Head?

Are My Allergies All in My Head?

Q. Are my allergies all in my head?

A. No. But emotional factors can make allergies better or worse.

Doctors have long suspected a connection between allergies and the psyche. In 1883, Dr. Morell Mackenzie, a pioneer in the field of ear, nose and throat medicine, observed, “It has long been noticed that attacks of prolonged sneezing are most apt to occur in persons of nervous temperament.”

In the 1940s, doctors discovered that allergic patients could be tricked into experiencing allergy attacks. In one case, a doctor exposed a patient to a goldenrod plant, without telling the patient that the plant was artificial. The patient immediately developed sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion. These symptoms resolved quickly once the doctor revealed his deception to the patient.

Observations such as this stimulated interest in hypnosis as a possible treatment for allergies. In 1958, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet reported a case of a woman whose allergies were cured by hypnosis. But initial enthusiasm for this technique waned after other doctors were unable to replicate these results. Eventually, hypnosis was abandoned as a treatment for allergies.

Still, doctors continued to note a high incidence of apparently psychosomatic symptoms among allergic patients. In a British survey of more than 10,000 people conducted in the 1990s, for example, 20 percent indicated that they developed itching, hives and other allergic symptoms in response to various foods. But fewer than 2 percent reacted to these foods on formal skin testing.

Placebo studies have proven uniquely useful in differentiating psychic symptoms from allergic ones. In 2011, investigators studied the effect of placebo inhalers in patients with mild-to-moderate asthma, a condition that frequently coexists with allergies. They found that patients perceived the same degree of relief with the placebo inhaler as they did with the actual asthma inhaler. Yet, their lung function tests improved only with the active medication.

2018 German study confirmed the effectiveness of placebos in patients with allergic rhinitis, the medical name for hay fever. Allergic symptoms such as itching, sneezing and runny nose improved even though the patients were aware that they were receiving a placebo.

What is one to conclude from all these studies? First, while emotions and psychological stress do not cause allergies, they can worsen symptoms. Next, while mind-body techniques may be useful adjuncts in easing symptoms, they are not sufficient to treat the underlying problem. Finally, placebo studies show the physician-patient relationship itself can be therapeutic. Maintaining a close relationship with a doctor you like may be one of the best way to maximize the benefits of allergy drugs and therapies.

This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

How healthy is a gluten-free diet?

How healthy is a gluten-free diet?

Gluten free diets have become a trend, and many people question whether they make a significant difference in health; nutrition experts say they are neither good nor bad.

Gluten is a general classification for a group of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.Allergies to gluten are common, with about one in 100 people being affected, but others choose to voluntarily give up gluten for health reasons.

“I think the trend really started in the early to mid 2000s, and since then, going gluten free has been attributed to everything from weight loss to curing disease, whether or not there is actual research to back up these claims,” Jennifer Yoder-Clevidence, a nutrition lecturer at Ohio University, said.

Fad diets are always being advertised, and they eventually fade away. Yoder-Clevidence said fad diets tend to resurface in the future as a “new” diet. She gave the example of the Atkins diet, which was a heavy trend in the late ’90s through the early 2000s, dissipated for a period of time, and reappeared as the paleo and ketogenic diets.

Yoder-Clevidence said if someone does not have Celiac disease, which requires them to restrict gluten, then gluten is neither bad nor good in a diet.

“People who have true Celiac disease do not have a gluten allergy, rather they have an autoimmune disease where they are unable to process gluten,” Yoder-Clevidence said. “In individuals with Celiac disease, gluten in the diet can do great damage to the lining of their intestine, which can lead to severe malnutrition among other complications.”

It is difficult for people with Celiac disease to find gluten-free foods. However, Yoder-Clevidence said due to the rise of consumer demand, she believes gluten-free foods are rapidly becoming more accessible.

“I would say the bigger challenge for people with Celiac disease is cross-contamination, and hidden sources of gluten even in products like lotion, toothpaste, shampoo and more items of that nature,” Yoder-Clevidence said.

Yoder-Clevidence said some products labeled as gluten-free have the same amount of calories, added fats and sugars as products containing gluten.

“It seems that gluten-free has almost become synonymous with ‘healthy’, however consumers still need to read labels and compare products,” Yoder-Clevidence said. “Unless someone has been diagnosed with Celiac disease, then eliminating gluten from the diet is not going to have additional health benefits.”

Olivia Ries, a senior studying psychology, said that as a person with Celiac disease, it is not difficult to find gluten-free alternatives.

“Especially in bigger cities, I’m able to find alternatives on almost every restaurant’s menu,” Ries said, “But it can be very difficult in Athens.”

Celiac disease is genetic, and Ries said her mom has it as well. However, Ries did not get diagnosed until she was in grade school.

“Realizing I had the disease was a progression,” Ries said. “I started getting dizzy, and couldn’t figure out what was happening with me.”

Ries said she knew something was wrong when she started experiencing “brain fog,” in which she was unable to remember conversations she recently had. She said the situation made her realize how correlated food ingestion and brain capacity are.

“I would study all night for tests and fail the tests because I just couldn’t remember anything,” Ries said.

Within a week of eating gluten-free, Ries said her body was feeling so much better.

Ries said she does not like making a big deal out of not eating gluten at restaurants. She is aware that some people eat gluten-free just so they can follow diets. She said sometimes restaurant workers assume she is one of the diet followers and that her request is not an emergency; she said she can tell by their faces that they are annoyed.

“I don’t do it just because I want to,” Ries said. “I always apologize profusely even though I know I don’t need to.”

Ries said even eating chicken that was cooked on a grill used to previously cook breaded chicken on can get her sick.

Ries said her friends are more defensive than she is when they go out to eat, making sure the waiters know her request is for a serious disease and not a diet.

Donkey Coffee and Espresso, 17 W. Washington St., sells gluten-free cookies. Donkey also sells vegan options.

Michael McBride, a barista at Donkey Coffee and Espresso, said the business aims to accommodate all customers’ needs.

“Some don’t mind what’s in the food, some do,” McBride said. “We try to reach all needs of our customers.”

What is an elimination diet and should I do it?

What is an elimination diet and should I do it?

The foods we eat greatly determine the status of our health. If you’re looking to finally find relief from negative health symptoms and remove the foods that are causing those issues, an elimination diet may be right for you.

What is an elimination diet?

Essentially, an elimination diet consists of two parts – elimination of a majority of trigger foods, and a careful reintroduction to those same foods after your body has adjusted to less stress and inflammation. As you add individual foods back into your diet, you’ll take notice of any new symptoms, and adjust accordingly.

During the reintroduction phase, Dr. Adrienne Carmack, Co-Medical Director of IHM, recommends only adding one food type back at a time, and that it should be in its purest form. Some foods may consist of more than one type of allergen you have eliminated. She gives the example of a chocolate bar that contains cacao, sugar, and milk. In this case, opt for using cacao powder instead of the whole bar.

Dr. Carmack says that a common cause of many health issues is food sensitivities, which can take form as a true allergy or as another form of intolerance (like lactose intolerance). Our elimination diets focus on removing both food allergies and food sensitivities that are likely to cause allergic reactions and sensitivity reactions.

Benefits of an Elimination Diet

There are many benefits to trying an elimination diet, but the best benefit is that it helps you discover the source of negative health symptoms.

Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman of The Institute for Functional Medicine, sheds light on symptoms of food sensitivities: “The key to determining food sensitivities (as opposed to food allergies) is that the food sensitivity might have a slow response or reaction. We’re talking about symptoms like bloating, brain fog, poor sleep, poor digestion, skin rashes – these symptoms can all be caused by food sensitivities.”

This elimination – and slow reintroduction – process greatly guides your investigation of what exactly is causing your symptoms.

Additionally, those who try Elimination Diets frequently report that not only do they determine food sensitivities, but also experience “increased energy, mental alertness, a decrease in muscle or joint pain, and a general sense of improved well-being.”

Why should I try an elimination diet?

If you have experienced consistent health symptoms, yet feel uncertain of their source, then an elimination diet may be the right choice for you! By eliminating reactive foods from your system, you will be able to more closely pay attention to when something feels off in your body.

Caffeine May Increase Pain Tolerance

Caffeine May Increase Pain Tolerance

Consuming caffeine regularly may increase the ability to withstand pain, a small study suggests.

Researchers recruited 62 men and women, ages 19 to 77, and had them record their daily caffeine intake from coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate. They averaged 170 milligrams of caffeine a day, about the amount in two cups of coffee, although 15 percent of the group consumed more than 400 milligrams a day. The study is in Psychopharmacology.

After seven days, they took the volunteers into a laboratory to test their pain tolerance using calibrated devices that gradually increased heat or pressure on a volunteer’s forearm or back. The people pressed a button on a hand-held device first when the sensation became painful, and then again when it became intolerable.

The experiment controlled for sex and race, current tobacco use and alcohol consumption, among other variables that could affect pain sensation. Still, they found that the more caffeine consumed, the greater the tolerance for pain.

“Diet can actually be a useful intervention for decreasing pain sensitivity,” said the lead author, Burel R. Goodin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It’s not just caffeine. A study has shown, for example, that a plant-based diet can actually help increase pain tolerance.”



This article was originally published in The New York Times. Read the original article.

I Don’t Drink Coffee. Should I Start?

I Don’t Drink Coffee. Should I Start?

As someone who doesn’t drink coffee, I’m sometimes forced to ponder whether I’ve escaped an unhealthy addiction or if I’ve just been asleep my whole life.

Counting yourself out from the 64 percent of Americans who drink at least one cup a day can invite bewildered responses from dedicated coffee drinkers. To them, the benefits are clear, the drawbacks minimal.

Being in the minority, it’s easy to wonder: Have I been making a mistake? Should I and other coffee abstainers start now?

“There aren’t any guidelines to help guide you on this,” said Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “This is kind of an individual decision.”


While it would be nice if medical experts just took a side, it’s not that simple.

We do know that coffee has been linked to a variety of health benefits. A recent review of studies found that greater coffee intake was linked to a decrease in liver cirrhosis risk.

Add it to the pile of headlines. Coffee has been linked to, among other things, reducing tinnitus riskincreasing driver safetycutting melanoma riskgalvanizing workoutssurviving colon cancerliving a longer life and avoiding death.

The medical consensus seems clear: Coffee is not unhealthy.

But experts tend to stop short of suggesting the uncaffeinated among us add it to our diets.

“It’s one thing to say it’s safe,” said Dr. Rob van Dam, an adjunct associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University. “It’s another thing to recommend it as a medical choice even though people don’t like it and they’d have to make an effort to adopt it. We’d need a different level of evidence to recommend it to people.”

Health benefits tend not to be on coffee drinkers’ minds when they drag themselves out of bed or hit a midafternoon slump. They just want to feel human again, I’m told.

“How do you even function in the morning?” a friend said when I asked about coffee’s pros and cons on Facebook. “How did you even have the energy to type this status? Cannot compute.”

Part of the energy boost comes from simply addressing the withdrawal symptoms coffee drinkers have created, Dr. van Dam said. If you never create that addiction, then there is no need to raise your caffeine level to soothe it.

There are objective measures, however, that indicate increased mental performance after a cup of joe, Dr. Hensrud said. Processing speed and cognitive speed have been shown to improve. It has also been linked to decreased risk of depression.

But there are also potential downsides. Coffee is associated with side effects like insomnia, jitters or heartburn, and because people metabolize caffeine at different rates, it can be intolerable to some. If you have trouble falling asleep after a can of soda, coffee might not be for you.

You should not feel as though you’re missing out on potential health benefits, Dr. Hensrud said, especially if you don’t enjoy the taste. He said he himself didn’t start drinking coffee until he was about 30.

“I just looked at it as unnecessary,” he said, adding, “If you don’t like it, my goodness, it’s not worth it.”

Are You Addicted to Coffee?

Are You Addicted to Coffee?

With pumpkin-spice latte season in full swing, many Americans may be finding themselves waiting in line for coffee more than usual. While a cup of joe undoubtedly can give a jolt of focus to a fuzzy morning, it also has real side effects. Caffeine use disorder was added to the most recent edition of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” as a condition for further study, and caffeine is the most-used drug in the world.

What are the signs that you’re addicted, and how can you kick the habit? One expert, Laura Juliano, a psychology professor at American University who specializes in addiction, spills the beans.

This Is Your Brain on Caffeine

When you ingest caffeine, it occupies the brain’s adenosine receptors, whose job is to tell the body it’s sleepy. By blocking that neuromodulator, the caffeine makes you feel alert. There is also evidence that caffeine stimulates the reward center of the brain.

“So the brain says, ‘This feels good. How can I do this again?’ ” Dr. Juliano says. Because your body has made adjustments to adenosine production, when the caffeine is taken away or wears off, you may experience fatigue, headaches, mood disturbances, even nausea. This is physical addiction in a nutshell: The body has adjusted for the drug, requiring increasingly more of it to get that buzz and stave off withdrawal symptoms.

“Regular users will choose to take caffeine over money, over a placebo—so it shares the same reinforcing qualities that we see in other recreational drugs,” Dr. Juliano says.

That in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. She is more concerned with psychological addiction, also referred to as caffeine use disorder in the DSM, when a person is physically dependent and uses the drug to avoid withdrawal, has tried to quit but cannot, and continues to use caffeine despite physical or psychological problems. One example, she says, would be using caffeine despite having trouble sleeping.

A pumpkin spice latte at Roos Roast in Ann Arbor, Mich.
A pumpkin spice latte at Roos Roast in Ann Arbor, Mich. PHOTO: MARK BIALEK/ZUMA PRESS
Signs of Addiction

Many people don’t know they are physically dependent until they stop consuming their go-to energy drink or macchiato on vacation or before a medical procedure.

“Since caffeine is embedded in our routines and social customs, people can go 20 years without missing a day and they don’t know they are dependent,” says Dr. Juliano, who treats caffeine and tobacco addicts. “One of my patients was drinking 20 cups of coffee a day and experiencing a great deal of anxiety until he cut back,” she says. Clear signs of withdrawal are headaches, tiredness and aches, but she’s seen worse. “Sometimes people get caught off-guard, and they think they have the flu, or the worst headache of their life.” She has even heard of someone who thought he was having a brain aneurysm.

Kicking the Habit

While studies have shown that as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day can result in physical dependence, Dr. Juliano believes that having less than 400 milligrams of caffeine day should be fine for most healthy adults, unless they are pregnant or have certain medical issues. A typical 12 oz. serving of drip coffee has anywhere from 107 mg to 420 mg, she says.

For the big energy drinker who wants to cut back, she recommends a slow wean, not cold turkey. That is because if you just quit, Days Two and Three can be a misery of withdrawal, and can even include vomiting and nausea. “But it’s temporary,” Dr. Juliano says. “Most people are past the worst withdrawal symptoms three days after the last dose. After nine days, it should resolve.”

To avoid the worst, “We suggest you cut your caffeine consumption in half each week,” she says. In a month, the withdrawal should be more tolerable. She continues to work with patients to keep them off anxiety-inducing caffeine, since preventing a relapse can be harder than quitting.

Worth the Suffering?

Dr. Juliano herself drinks coffee daily, just like more than 50% of Americans, according to the National Coffee Association. She doesn’t think most people have a psychological addiction, but she does offer a checklist to see if going without caffeine is worth the pain of withdrawal.

She suggests checking in regularly with yourself, asking how your general health is, how you’re sleeping and how your anxiety levels are.

“In our society, we have many people who suffer from anxiety and sleep problems, and they should consider giving themselves some relief from caffeine and seeing if that helps,” she says. Added bonus: all that money saved on cappuccinos and energy drinks.


article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

“Caffeine intoxication” became official in the medical community when the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” known as DSM-5, added the diagnosis last year.

So do cappuccino lovers need to worry about limiting their consumption?

One expert, Matthew Johnson, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, explains how caffeine works in the body and when to cut back.

Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a neuromodulator in the brain that puts the brakes on excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. “Caffeine allows these stimulating chemicals to flow, which can have a rousing effect, even at very low doses,” says Dr. Johnson, a psychopharmacologist who studies the influence of drugs on behavior and mood.

Some people will get edgy from a weak cup of tea. For others, a double espresso is required to get them into the shower in the morning.

Most coffee drinkers are familiar with at least some symptoms of overindulging—nervousness, excitement, insomnia, rambling thoughts. But a large majority of people who consume caffeine don’t experience severe consequences, Dr. Johnson says.

There are some case reports of students experiencing major anxiety after drinking a dozen cups of coffee, Dr. Johnson says. But overdosing would be difficult, “unless folks took multiple caffeine pills or drank many cans of energy drinks” such as Red Bull.

It is possible for a person to die from too much caffeine, “but that would mean about 14,000 milligrams, or around 140 8-ounce cups of coffee in one day,” Dr. Johnson says. Consuming that much would be difficult because of coffee’s self-limiting nature. “One cup makes you feel good and alert, but five cups may make you feel like your stomach is cramping,” he says. “You feel wired and you wouldn’t typically be able to go overboard.”

While clinicians may observe benefits and risks of caffeine intake, the effects are still being debated in academic circles, Dr. Johnson says. “The evidence that unfiltered coffee increases LDL cholesterol levels is convincing,” he says, referring to the “bad” type of cholesterol. “But it’s the mortality studies that count the most,” he says.

One study suggests mortality benefits at up to six cups of coffee a day, Dr. Johnson says. Another suggested mortality risks in people under 55 who drink more than four cups a day. As a result, “I would be hesitant to say that we’ve reached any final answer,” he says.

Current research into depression has looked closely at glutamate, one of the neurotransmitters affected by caffeine, Dr. Johnson says. “In a recent study, those who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee had fewer depressive symptoms, and the opposite was true for those who lowered their intake,” he says. That doesn’t mean depressed patients would benefit from a steady diet of triple lattes. “If a patient is depressed and predisposed to panic attacks, for example, caffeine might make the condition worse,” he says.

The most convincing evidence indicates you’re probably not at risk for major side effects if you consume up to about four 8-ounce cups of filtered coffee, or around 400mg, early in the day, Dr. Johnson says. “If you’re drinking under four cups a day and not having any side effects, then you’re probably OK,” he says.


This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

Is Red Wine Really the Cause of That Headache?

Is Red Wine Really the Cause of That Headache?

I KNOW PLENTY of people who suffer from headaches that they believe are triggered by drinking red wine—including, occasionally, me. Red Wine Headache is such a common complaint that it has both an acronym (RWH) and its very own Wikipedia page, albeit with a disclaimer noting a lack of medical evidence regarding the condition and its causes. As Dr. Alexander Mauskop, director and founder of the New York Headache Center in Manhattan, said, “We don’t know anything for sure.”

Wine-related headaches are one of the center’s most common complaints, especially among migraine sufferers, said Dr. Mauskop. He has heard many theories as to the cause. One posits that the type of oak used in the fermentation and aging of wine triggers headaches, though Dr. Mauskop couldn’t recall if French oak or American oak was said to be worse. He’s also heard theories about the sulfites in red wine as contributing factors, but he sees very few headache patients who are truly sulfite-allergic. That condition is actually quite rare, and besides, red wines have a lower concentration of sulfites overall than white wines do.

Dehydration can cause headaches, and alcohol acts as a diuretic—which means, of course, that dehydration can result from drinking both red and white wines, as well as other alcoholic beverages. A red wine headache might also signal an insufficiency of magnesium. “Alcohol is a major depleter of magnesium,” said Dr. Mauskop. He recommends that headache sufferers take 400 milligrams of magnesium per day.

Dr. Mauskop himself gets headaches from red wine occasionally. When he feels a headache coming on, he’ll sometimes take Imitrex (generic name: Sumatriptan), a drug that affects serotonin receptors, thereby relieving pain.

Oddly enough, though there is much discussion of red wine headaches, just as the Wikipedia page warned, I found very little medical research on the topic. After consulting with experts, the only study I unearthed was published three decades ago in the Lancet, the influential British medical journal.

In the 1988 study, “Red Wine as a Cause of Migraine,” six researchers served 19 members of a patient group at the Princess Margaret Migraine Clinic in London either vodka or red wine to assess whether their headaches were red wine-specific or caused strictly by alcohol. The drinks were served in dark vessels and other efforts were made to disguise their flavor as well as their color.

Some of the participants were migraine sufferers who identified themselves as red wine-sensitive, others were migraine patients who were not, as far as they knew, red wine-sensitive, and another eight participants were a control group of non-migraine sufferers. The red wine was described in the study as “Spanish” and the vodka was blended with lemon juice to dilute it to a similar alcohol level. Study participants were given 300 milliliters, equal to about 10 ounces or two typical glasses of wine.

The results were inconclusive: Some participants who claimed to be red wine-sensitive developed headaches from red wine, some did not. Some who claimed no such sensitivity did develop headaches after drinking vodka. The researchers suggested various possible explanations. Was it simply a matter of drinking too much? The study acknowledged that tyramine, another naturally occurring compound in food and wine, has been found to trigger migraines. But in this case, the tyramine level in the wine administered to participants was noted as quite low: just 2 milligrams per liter, which means each patient consumed less than 1 milligram. The conclusion: More research was needed.

‘The doctor has heard theories about sulfites in red wine, but he sees very few headache patients who are truly sulfite-allergic.’

I was curious about the potential of tyramine to trigger headaches but had little luck finding any further information on the topic. Chris Gerling, an extension associate at Cornell University’s Viticulture and Enology program in Ithaca, N.Y., noted that tyramine levels in grapes are highly variable. “It’s really hard to make a blanket statement about colors or grape varieties. Regions of the world report different findings,” he said. Mr. Gerling did note that since red wines tend to undergo malolactic fermentation more often than white wines do and often spend time in barrels where bacteria can thrive, reds have the potential to develop higher levels of tyramine.

Red wines also have higher levels of histamines, a byproduct of fermentation, than white wines. Some have cited histamines as a possible cause for headaches, though Mr. Gerling cautioned, in what was becoming a familiar refrain, “Nothing can be stated with certainty.” Phenols, compounds that give red wines some of their color, flavor and body, have also been put forward as possible headache-causing culprits—as yet another unproven theory.

So I found myself pretty much right back where I began, with lots of theories and no real answer. It wasn’t possible to identify potentially problematic wines by the high tyramine or phenol levels of the grapes or the amount of time they spent in particular barrels or even their respective histamine levels. I could stock up on magnesium and take a tablet a day, and I could drink water along with wine. I could also follow the lead of some friends who identify as red wine-sensitive and take an antihistamine tablet when I indulge.

These strategies might or might not work, Dr. Mauskop said. If I already had enough magnesium in my system, taking more wouldn’t prevent a headache. I could take a blood test to determine my magnesium level and, depending on the results, visit his office for a magnesium shot. Some of his patients do so monthly and find it helpful. But Dr. Mauskop didn’t think the antihistamine would be of much help. “Histamine release by red wine is not the main reason for headaches, otherwise antihistamines would help most people—and they don’t,” he said.

I’m not going to stop drinking red wine, even if it gives me a headache from time to time. And there is a chance that sometime in the future I might be better able to predict which wines will be more likely to make my head hurt. Dr. Morris Levin, chief of the headache medicine division and the director of the University of California San Francisco Headache Center, is working on a research project that he thinks might identify potentially problematic reds. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to tell people which wines would be safe to drink?” he asked, rhetorically.

Dr. Levin is about to begin the process of recruiting patients, and he hopes to include 50 participants or more in the research study. Shamelessly, I petitioned him to include me. “I’m putting you on the list,” he said. While I wait to hear more, it’s given me something to feel hopeful about in the new year.


This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal. Read the original article.

Freezing Your Coffee Beans? The Experts Say You’re Doing It All Wrong

Freezing Your Coffee Beans? The Experts Say You’re Doing It All Wrong

MELBOURNE, Australia—Just before the final round of Australia’s top coffee competition, barista Tilly Sproule stocked up on a crucial ingredient. She bought nearly 20 pounds of dry ice.

She packed the ice into a box, divvied up her coffee beans into small plastic vials and inserted the tubes into the ice. Her goal was to chill her beans to below zero. She wanted them so brittle they would grind more evenly than at room temperature. It was vital, she said, to making an incredible cup of joe.

“Backstage is hilarious,” Ms. Sproule said. “There’s like five or six freezers, I think. Everyone’s on the bandwagon.”

It isn’t just about getting a better grind. Some cafes are freezing their best beans so they’ll last months or even years—far beyond the couple of weeks that roasted beans typically taste their best. Frozen-bean advocates imagine a day when coffee aficionados can behave like wine connoisseurs, poring over long coffee menus to sample numerous vintages.

Scientists say there is little research so far into how best to store frozen beans for the long term. So coffee nerds are trying to figure it out for themselves. Some roasters are trying ultralow-temperature freezers typically used by labs to store biological samples. Others use frozen-food warehouses. Some freeze unroasted beans, others roasted.

“People haven’t done this before,” says Christopher Hendon, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon who has studied coffee. “A good analogy for this is: Imagine being the first guy ever to provide aged whiskey. Imagine saying, ‘Hey, 28 years from now, we are going to make some money.’ ”

One thing the coffee experts figured out right away: They had to do better than ordinary consumers who buy a bag of coffee at the grocery store, use some of it and just toss the rest into the freezer.

“Thirty years ago, people said, ‘Oh, freeze all your coffee and it’s better for it,’ ” says Will Young, the owner of Campos Coffee in Sydney. “But then people were doing it badly. They were doing it in open containers, frost forming on the actual bean itself. It was just really embarrassing for coffee.”

Mr. Hendon says coffee beans need to be frozen in an airtight container to keep out excess moisture and prevent unwanted odors from contaminating the beans. More study is needed, he says, to determine how the rate of freezing and humidity affects the beans.

It helps to have a reliable freezer. Mr. Young arrived at his roastery one day last year to find a mini-freezer had stopped working. Inside was unroasted Panamanian coffee that had cost more than $100 a pound. It had been frozen for nine months. It wasn’t anymore.

The unplanned thawing, he says, left the beans tasting no better than a $6-a-pound grade. Still, some of the beans were good enough to use in the regular espresso blend he sells to cafes. That week, he says, cafe customers were “drinking some of the best coffee in the world, just a very small amount of it in each cup.”

Mr. Young upgraded to a freezer that cost about $3,000. He uses it to store ultrapremium coffee from Panama, Yemen and Costa Rica. Preserving it in a freezer just for a year would be a success. Mr. Young says unroasted beans typically start to degrade after six months, even if stored in a climate- and humidity-controlled warehouse.

George Howell, who runs his namesake coffee business in Boston, has about 200,000 pounds of unroasted beans in a warehouse used for frozen food. He also has several ice-cream freezers in his roastery to keep the more expensive beans, including a Guatemalan variety harvested back in 2012.

Still, Mr. Howell says about 10% of his frozen beans still degrade, probably because the beans weren’t properly dried after harvest.

“This has all been trial and error and just following what works,” he says. “We’re not scientists.”

Mike Cracknell, managing director of Vertue Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, tried freezing roasted coffee beans in a sandwich bag in his freezer at home. He says the coffee ended up tasting like rotten fruit. Subsequent experiments with a vacuum seal yielded better results, but he doesn’t think freezing beans will become standard practice for most roasters and cafes.

“It’s over-engineering,” he says. “When the majority of people might be enjoying their large cappuccino or their regular flat white with one sugar, there’s no need to do that.”

Such skepticism isn’t stopping some cafes. Customers at a new Sydney cafe run by ONA Coffee can order from what cafe manager Isaac Kim calls the “reserve menu.” The beans, already roasted, are stored in a freezer in single-serve, vacuum-sealed packs. Some coffee beans peak in flavor about 10 days after roasting and may start to degrade around the two-week mark, Mr. Kim says.

Carol Leong, who stopped by the ONA cafe with friends recently, said it was the first time she saw a barista take beans out of a freezer. “Just then I saw it and I was like, whoa, that’s pretty cool,” she said.

Ms. Sproule, from Tim Adams Specialty Coffee, didn’t win the Australian coffee championships, but she swears by her dry-ice technique. For optimal grinding, she says, she likes to get the beans to at least 58 degrees below zero.

At that temperature, she explains, “you get less fines and less boulders, and more like a shattered, uniform particle size.”

The winner of the contest was Matthew Lewin, who works at ONA. He said he used a portable freezer to chill his beans. At the main roasting facility in Canberra, Australia’s capital, ONA is looking to build a walk-in freezer.

Can You Get Over a Food Intolerance?

Can You Get Over a Food Intolerance?

Q. Can you desensitize yourself to a food intolerance?

A. Food intolerances, which the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology defines as “difficulty digesting a particular food,” are different than food allergies and often resolve on their own. Food allergies involve the immune system, whereas food intolerances generally do not.

Some food intolerances are well understood. Tyramine in chocolate and cheeses, for example, can trigger migraine headaches in some people. Similarly, histamine in fish such as mackerel and tuna can cause nausea, vomiting and flushing. Sulfites in dried fruit and tartrazine in food dyes can cause asthma exacerbations.

But the cause of most food intolerances remains unknown.

In a British study of more than 10,000 patients, the foods most often associated with intolerances were chocolate, food additives, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs and nuts. The most common symptoms of these intolerances were hay fever, headaches, joint pain, itching, hives and stomach discomfort.

In the largest study to date, doctors studied the electronic health records of 2.7 million patients in Massachusetts. They found that 3.6 percent had at least one food intolerance or food allergy. The list of offending foods was similar to that of the British study.

But a caveat must be noted. In both studies the investigators were unable to discriminate between food intolerances and food allergies. Because the symptoms overlap extensively, one cannot differentiate intolerance from allergy without specialized testing.

Further complicating things, some foods can cause both intolerance and allergy. Cow’s milk is a good example. It can provoke bloating and diarrhea in individuals with lactase deficiency — a food intolerance — and can cause wheezing and hives in those allergic to the beta-lactoglobulin milk protein — a food allergy.

An elimination diet, in which the potentially offending food is removed from the diet, is usually the first step in diagnosing food intolerance. While elimination diets have not been studied systematically, resolution of symptoms upon withdrawal of the food in question strongly suggests a food intolerance.

Reintroducing an offending food is often possible. The British researchers were able to do this with most of the patients in their study without provoking serious reactions. But this should be done under a doctor’s care.

Because of the complexities and potential pitfalls in the diagnosis and treatment of food intolerance, one should seek guidance from a specialist, typically an allergist or a gastroenterologist, depending on the nature of one’s symptoms.