Friday, November 28, 2008

Why are more children becoming allergic to peanuts?

The results of the C.D.C.'s first ever survey of food allergies in the U.S. showed not only the number of people with food allergies are increasing but that peanuts are the most likely food causing allergic reactions. Over 1% of children are now affected. Worse yet is that these allergic reactions can be fatal and lifelong. We do not know why. This trend is puzzling because people have been eating peanuts for many years without problems. One hypothesis is that children are being introduced to peanuts at an earlier age and in greater amounts than before. The immune system is not ready for this and responds by reacting violently. The problem with this hypothesis is that about 80% children have an allergic reaction to peanut the first time they eat it. Could it be then that infants were primed to react because of mom's diet? Possible, but the latest Pediatric position statement actually concluded that mom's diet during pregnancy had no effect on the development of allergies in the baby. Note they supported breast feeding for 4 to 6 months. Prior wisdom was for the mom to avoid foods causing allergies during pregnancy. If so, then could it be how peanuts were processed? In China, peanuts are eaten in large quantities, but they are boiled. In the U.S. and westernized countries, peanuts are roasted. Boiling is more likely to alter the shape of proteins in peanuts than roasting.

For now, I think the safest course is to avoid peanuts during pregnancy and delay introduction to their diet as long as possible. This won't hurt and it could help. The problem is really that dietary restriction is a very rare practice in the U.S. because most Americans simply eat too much food. Remember two-thirds of Americans are overweight, with one-third overall being obese.

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