Watch any American television show or movie, and you will be sure to catch a glimpse the delicacy called a peanut butter jelly sandwich. However, I’ve never had the experience of packing one in my lunchbox. In fact, my school (along with many others) was plastered with “NUT FREE ZONE” signs along the walls.
It seems that as the number of peanut allergies have shot up within the decade. The pursuit to uncover the peanut allergy mystery has been an ongoing process. Let’s take a look at peanut allergy approaches from the past and the present.
What is an allergy?
Before we dive into the specifics of peanut allergies, what is an allergy to begin with? An allergy is when the body has a hypersensitive response (from the immune system) to substances in the environment. This is different from a food intolerance as a food intolerances involve the digestive system.
Allergies on the rise
From one of the most beloved snacks, to one of the most feared, it is no surprise that peanut allergies have increase within the recent years. In fact, since 2010, there has been a 21% increase of peanut allergies. Many people have questioned why the sudden increase. While there is no definite answer, research and progress has been made.
Past peanut approaches
In the past, medical professionals advised parents to keep children away from peanuts until the age of three. While doctors were not sure of the cause of peanut allergies, it was clear that they were increasing and particularly likely in children with eczema.
Many US and UK doctors followed the guidelines, yet found that peanut allergies were not declining. In fact, almost all US and UK doctors had patients with peanut allergies. Yet this was not the case in other parts of the world. In fact, in Israel peanut allergies were 10 times less likely than in the UK. This left doctors stumped. What were they doing wrong? And more importantly, what were the children in Israel doing differently?
Progression of the peanut approach
One key difference they found was in the snacks. More specifically, Bamba. Bamba is a popular Israeli snack, with peanut protein as a key ingredient. An experiment observing children who consumed Bamba and children who did not was then conducted. The results completely flipped everything the UK and US doctors thought they knew about peanut allergies. Children who had been fed Bamba were 5 times less likely to have a peanut allergy. Researchers continued searching for an explanation, and one experiment led to some interesting conclusions.
An experiment where scientist attempted to give mice (with rashes) peanut allergies was conducted. Peanuts were rubbed in the mice’s rashes, afterwards the mice were fed peanuts. As hoped, the mice who had never been exposed to peanuts prior to the experiment, experienced severe allergic reactions.
This led scientist to believe that it was not in the exposure to peanuts itself, but the kind that made the difference. One allergy researcher (Gideon Lack) proposed that if children were initially exposed to peanuts through their skin, they had a higher chance of developing a peanut allergy. However, if the children were initially exposed to through consuming the peanuts, they would have a lower chance of developing an allergy.
Why? Well, it is similar to first impressions. If someone barged into your house with a mask for the first time, you would probably have a bad impression and not want to see them in the future. However, if some politely rang the doorbell and showed up with a friendly smile, you would feel more inclined to welcome them.
With this concept, if children were first “meeting” peanuts for the first time through their skin, their bodies would remember this as something bad, causing an allergic reaction in the future.
This “type of peanut exposure” theory ties into why children with eczema may be more prone to peanut allergies, as peanuts could have entered through rashes. Furthermore, this aligns with the finding of that children who initially consumed peanuts (Bamba) did not have allergies, while children who encountered peanuts through their skin did.
While research is still ongoing, and scientist are sure not sure of the cause of peanut allergies, the general approach to peanut allergies are to introduce children to peanut around the time they start eating.
Funny how thing have gone a completely 180. It’s kind of…nuts!