A report published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology shows that Americans have more peanut allergies than anyone else in the world. What’s even alarming, is that the number tripled between 1997 and 2008. Other countries experiencing the sharp rise in peanut allergy reactions include Australia, Canada, and the UK. In most parts of Africa, China, Korea, Israel and Thailand, peanuts are common and are consumed almost every time. In fact, it’s estimated that over 90 percent of Israeli families indulge in a peanut snack called Bamba. Surprisingly, peanut allergy in Israel is very low, almost negligible. This poses the question: Why are so many Americans allergic to peanuts? The thought that the once cherished snack is now off-limits is scary, with scientists still trying to find out what might have happened.
What Causes Peanut Allergy?
To understand the phenomena behind peanut allergic reactions, let’s explore the causes of peanut allergies. Peanuts should not be confused with tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and cashew nuts which grow on trees. Peanuts grow underground and are legumes just like beans, lentils, and peas. When a person who is allergic to peanut gets into contact with the food for the first time, their immune system kicks into defensive mode, treating peanut as a serious threat. The immune system releases antibodies to protect the body from the invasion. The next time you eat peanuts, the antibodies trigger an immune reaction which manifests as allergies. Peanuts are the leading cause of a life-threatening condition known as Anaphylaxis which requires immediate treatment. Your allergic reaction could be triggered in three ways:
- Direct-contact which includes eating peanut or peanut products and direct skin contact. Skin contact with peanut products can lead to a severe reaction if the affected area, for instance, the finger, gets in contact with the eyes, mouth, or nose.
- Cross-contact entails the accidental introduction of peanut into food products either during handling or manufacturing.
- Inhalation is where you inhale peanut dust or air particles from peanut products such as peanut cooking oil and peanut flour.
Peanut reactions are extremely serious that it takes a very small amount to cause a reaction.
Why Are Peanut Allergic Reactions So Prevalent in the U.S.
It’s not yet clear what could be causing the rise in peanut allergies in the U.S. What’s even more perplexing is a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that shows a 50 percent increase in allergy cases over the past 15 years. We are left wondering if we really are allergic to peanut or what’s been added to it. A few theories suspected to propel this condition include:
It’s thought that if peanut allergy runs in the family, then family members can exhibit allergic reactions. Thus, some kids are just born with a peanut allergy.
Peanut pods are buried in the ground. This means that the capacity of absorbing pesticides and other chemicals sprayed on the peanut crops is very high. The soil becomes saturated and contaminated which could lead to an increase in allergic reactions. According to farmers, peanut crops undergo crop rotation with cotton crops. Glyphosate is applied several times a year to the cotton plantation and is associated with severe soil damage. This leads to bad organisms inhabiting the soil and as a result, peanut crops are exposed to various diseases which can only be treated with fungicides and insecticides. With that in mind, we can only imagine how that soil affects the peanut we eat.
3. Processed Peanut Butter
Considering the number of chemicals used during the planting season of peanuts, the same peanuts will find their way into the peanut butter we eat. Other ingredients include sugar, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, and stabilizers. Most of which are genetically engineered.
In other words, you’re taking all kinds of chemicals in the form of peanut butter. So, how do you know if you’re allergic to peanut?
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
The onset of symptoms is unpredictable and greatly differ from one individual to another. For some, the symptoms usually start immediately after consuming peanut or peanut products. For others, it may take up to two hours. There are cases where the second wave of symptoms, known as a biphasic reaction, come back one to four hours after the first symptoms disappear. Peanut allergy symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath/ wheezing.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains.
- Swelling and redness of the skin, hives, and other skin reactions
- A runny nose.
- A drop in blood pressure.
- Swelling of the throat.
What is the Solution?
U.S. Patent law protects the ingredients in genetically engineered products. Since it’s virtually impossible to test those ingredients, the only option is to turn to organic peanut, peanut products, and other organic foods.
Can Peanut Allergy Be Cured?
So far, there’s no cure for allergic reactions caused by peanut. But studies show that the introduction of peanut at a younger age of four months can significantly reduce the risk of developing an allergy. Peanut allergies can only be managed by administering Epinephrine auto-injector and rushing to the emergency room for close monitoring.