Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Allergen-Free Peanut

Food allergies are a strange thing. Kid’s Health says that when a person’s immune system thinks the body has consumed something dangerous, it reacts by producing antibodies, which in turn release histamines into the bloodstream. The histamines then act on a person's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract and causes the symptoms of the allergic reaction.

“The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology estimates that up to 2 million, or 8%, of children in the United States are affected by food allergies, and that six foods account for 90% of those food allergy reactions in kids: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, and tree nuts. Unlike allergies to other foods like milk and eggs, children generally don't outgrow allergies to peanuts or nuts.”

ABC News reported that the number of children suffering from peanut allergies in the U.S. has doubled to more than 600,000 in just five years. As a result, researchers are on the hunt for an allergen-free peanut, and AT&T State University in North Carolina’s Mohammed Ahmedna says he found it. Though still in testing, he says they’ve found a process to deactivate the allergens within the peanut in the lab, as opposed to rebuilding the peanut. Taking another approach, researchers at the University of Florida are trying to grow a safe peanut (i.e., without the three proteins that trigger most allergic reactions).

On a similar note, I came across a warning from the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network regarding an erroneous press release from a U.S. food company with claims of a new product containing allergen-free peanuts.

“The product is Organic Amazonian Wild Jungle Peanuts, by California-based Sunfood Nutrition. The company’s press release said, among other things, that ‘Testing has revealed that these amazing nuts are free of aflatoxin – the mold in conventional peanuts that is linked to food allergies and illness.’”

“Just because a peanut is aflatoxin-free doesn’t mean that it’s allergen-free. Even a peanut that’s free of aflatoxin can still cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to peanuts."

We don’t have any food allergies in our home, but I’m always curious about food related concerns. This, in particular, is such a challenging medical issue that requires so much care and attention. You can see why researchers are looking for a way to eliminate the dangers by finding a safe alternative for allergy sufferers. However, I think that even if a peanut solution is found, I would still be very suspicious of “safe” peanuts. How could one be sure it’s safe? And that it hasn’t been contaminated? It just seems it's effectiveness is realized only in ideal situations, which aren't common in my experience. I can hope for the best, though, for the sake of those living in constant anxiety over themselves or their kids.