Favism: how to deal with it?

March 4, 2024

Favism is a genetic condition that can have a significant impact on the quality of life of those with it. In this article, we will look at what is involved in living with this condition, what foods to avoid, how to diagnose it, and possible treatments. This information is essential for everyone, but especially for parents who want to protect the health of their children.

What happens to people with favism?

It’s a genetic disorder due to a deficiency in the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), which plays a crucial role in protecting red blood cells. Favism patients may experience episodes of hemolysis, or the destruction of red blood cells, in response to certain foods, drugs, or even oxidative stress. This can lead to symptoms such as pallor, fatigue, dark urine, and in severe cases, jaundice and acute renal failure.

The acute episode, known as a hemolytic crisis, can develop within hours and requires immediate medical attention. However, it is important to note that favism can vary in severity. Some individuals may live without presenting symptomatic episodes for long periods, while others may experience more frequent and severe crises.

What should they not eat?

Diet plays a key role in the management of this disease. The main food to avoid is fava beans or pods of Vicia faba. Consumption of fava beans can quickly trigger a hemolytic crisis in susceptible individuals. However, not only fresh fava beans are to be avoided, but dried fava beans, extracts, and fava bean pollen can also be dangerous.

Other potentially dangerous foods include some types of legumes such as peas and lentils, which should be consumed with caution. In addition, many people with favism need to avoid or carefully use certain drugs and chemicals. It is essential to consult a doctor to get a complete list of foods and medications to avoid.

How to know if you have favism?

The diagnosis of favism is usually made through a simple blood test, which measures the activity of the enzyme G6PD in red blood cells. This test is especially recommended if there is a family history of the disease or after an episode of unexplained hemolytic anemia.

Parents who suspect favism in their children should talk to their pediatrician, who can provide early diagnosis and advice for management of the disease. In some countries, testing for favism is part of newborn screening, allowing at-risk infants to be identified and precautions to be taken from the earliest days of life.

Can people with this problem touch fava beans?

This is a common question, and the answer is less intuitive than you might think. Although direct contact with fava beans does not generally cause a hemolytic crisis, caution is advised. Inhaling fava bean pollen can actually trigger a reaction in extremely sensitive individuals, so even just handling fava beans could theoretically pose a risk.

In addition, for those with favism, it is important to avoid not only consumption but also presence in environments where fava beans are cooked, to prevent exposure to their aroma and potential vapors that could trigger a reaction. Prevention is always the best strategy.

What is the cure for favism?

Currently, there is no definitive cure for this issue. Management of the disease is based on preventing hemolytic crisis by avoiding triggers such as certain foods, drugs and chemicals. If a hemolytic crisis occurs, treatment may require hospitalization and depends on the severity of symptoms.

Therapies may include blood transfusions, intravenous fluids, and treatments to protect the kidneys and other vital organs. Research is active in gene therapy and other potential solutions, but at present prevention remains the best approach.

How long do people live with favism?

With proper management, individuals with favism can live normal, full lives. The key is to avoid triggers that can cause hemolytic crises and to follow the guidelines provided by health professionals. The prognosis is generally good, and many patients experience no reduction in life expectancy.

However, people with favism must be aware of their condition and take the right precautions, especially when it comes to food, medicine, and potentially dangerous environments. With the support of doctors, family members, and institutions, living with favism can be effectively managed, ensuring a healthy and active life.

We are with you.

Favism therefore is a condition that requires attention and care, but with the appropriate information and support, those with it can lead normal and fulfilling lives. We at Informed Parenting are here to support you throughout the parenting journey, from the fertile period to preparing for life with children. We do this through our guides, classes, and personalized counseling. Remember, you will never be alone; we are with you.

SOURCES

Beretta A, Manuelli M, Cena H. Favism: Clinical Features at Different Ages. Nutrients. 2023 Jan 10;15(2):343. doi: 10.3390/nu15020343. PMID: 36678214; PMCID: PMC9864644.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.