Peanuts for Peanut Allergy Sufferers? A Look at What Lies Ahead

A peanut allergy is one of the most common causes of food related anaphylaxis. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in the United States, it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths. Peanut allergies are among the “Big 8” major allergens in the United States. Allergic reactions from peanuts and other major allergens range from a relatively mild and local reaction to life threatening systemic reactions known as anaphylaxis that require emergency treatment.

What happens in the body during an allergic reaction?

Dr. Jianmae Yu, a food and nutrition researcher at North Carolina’s A&T’s School of Agriculture and Environmental studies, states allergic reactions “are triggered by proteins, some of which are more powerful than others.” For individuals that are allergic to peanuts, accidental ingestion causes the body to create chemicals – like histamines – that trigger an allergic reaction.

What does the future hold for those living with peanut allergies?

Peanuts serve as a popular staple throughout the world, unfortunately, those who are allergic to them cannot reap the nutrients and great taste that they provide.  Here’s a look into the future where promising therapies and technological advances may someday be the key to solving this important food safety issue.

  • The Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) project, based in London, conducted a randomized and controlled 5-year clinical study. Professor Gideon Lack, lead researcher and Professor at King's College in London, suggests that early introduction of peanuts could result in reducing the onset of peanut allergies later in life.  Dr. Lack states “Early dietary exposure to peanut allergen was shown to promote the development of tolerance to peanuts by the child’s developing immune system and is highly effective in preventing allergic reactions to peanuts in later life for this high risk group.”  See: “Consensus communication on early peanut introduction and the prevention of peanut allergy in high-risk infants” for more information about the study.

  • Long term research could one day create a non-allergenic peanut:  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported research at North Carolina A&T to create and market peanuts that have been treated to reduce their allergens.  See:  http://nifa.usda.gov/blog/allergy-sufferers-may-soon-be-able-find-peanut-and-eat-it-too

Why include peanuts in your diet

It’s well known that peanuts are enriched with many healthful nutrients, including vitamin E. Peanuts also contain riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, and folate as well as minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. All of these nutrients provide the body with positive health benefits.

Advancements in research and therapeutic treatments will take years, if not generations, to come to fruition.  Until such time they become a reality, we must be diligent in managing our food allergies – from peanut to shell fish – and helping those by providing practical approaches to minimize an accidental ingestion of an offending food.

Here’s What You Can do to Be Food Allergy Safe

Food allergies can be life threatening.  Here are a few practical tips from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT) to ensure you and your family are confident in managing food allergies. 

  • Avoid the offending protein / food
  • Plan ahead
  • Recognize and treat a reaction
  • Give Epinephrine for a serious reaction
  • If you or someone you know is having a reaction, call 911 immediately

Experts, health professionals and the FDA have stated “There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of food allergens — and early recognition and management of allergic reactions to food — are important measures to prevent serious health consequences.”

Sources:

Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) “Your Food Allergy Field Guide

Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT)

IFIC Foundation Food Allergy Resource Page

JACI “Consensus communication on early peanut introduction and the prevention of peanut allergy in high-risk infants

USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration:  Food Allergies – What You Need to Know