Peanut Allergies have certainly been in the news lately. Children are being diagnosed with food allergies in growing numbers, even if the figures vary depending on the source quoted. But the Why is not always clear. Why are food allergies becoming more common? Many theories have been put forth, including the latest research from the US, Israel & the United Kingdom.
Even Popular Science Magazine has looked into this problem. A recent article, “Why are so many kids allergic to peanuts?” has several theories:
- An overactive Immune System. Anne Muñoz-Furlong, CEO of the US Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, suggests that we have done such a good job of eliminating the threats that the immune system is supposed to manage, it is now attacking food-based allergens instead. Wow, we are washing our hands too much!
This is the so-called Hygiene Hypothesis. In medicine, the Hygiene Hypothesis states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (e.g. gut flora), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by modulating immune system development.
- Peanuts contain several proteins not found in other foods. These proteins have a structure that can stimulate a strong immune response as Allergy specialist Dr Robert Wood from John Hopkins University. It seems roasting may change the proteins’ shape, making them an even bigger target for the immune system. Boiling does not have the same effect.
- Previous indirect exposure to peanuts (eg. in the womb or in breast milk). Recent research tends to downplay this theory, however.
- Videogames. Videogames?? According to Popular Science, it seems that some scientists believe the human body needs Vitamin D to help the immune system label substances as innocuous. Children who spend less time outdoors (ie playing videogames) tend to be deficient in Vitamin D, which the body needs sunlight to make, so they are more likely to have immune systems that might mislabel peanut proteins as dangerous.
So what do Parents DO? What is Popular Science’s advice? Parents looking to protect their kids might consider sending them outside – and not washing their hands when they come home. Now throw the kids in a mud puddle and let them play and have fun making mud pies. Just like me when I was a kid! I played in the red mud of Georgia and got really dirty, only to spend time in the tub each night trying to get clean. My poor Mother! But I can eat peanuts!!! Yeah.