RAMPANT PEANUT ALLERGIES

So, what about those peanut allergies just mentioned by Bill Bonner? WWNK thought the topic worth a deeper look. Here's our report.

Remember when you were a kid and peanut butter sandwiches were a staple of school lunches? Back then, proposing a "peanut-free" area in the cafeteria would have been like suggesting a quick trip to the moon.

But times have changed and the peanut is no longer America's spreadable darling. Today everyone is worried about peanut allergy, a condition that afflicts an estimated 3 million people in the U.S.--especially children-- causing rashes, asthma, and perhaps as many as 200 annual deaths. In 1998, the Department of Transportation tried to ban peanuts from certain sections of commercial airplanes. And many schools no longer allow them on the premises.

Numerous doctors say the incidence of peanut allergy is only increasing. The British Medical Journal published one of the first warnings in 1996, noting that children's positive reactions to a peanut skin *** test had increased 55 percent in 10 years. A 2003 study found that peanut allergies in U.S. children had doubled since 1997. More recent work in Britain showed a tripling of allergies since 1989.

Why have peanuts suddenly become such a problem? The simplest argument put forward is that peanut consumption has itself increased over the past decades, exposing more of the population to this allergen. As the Calgary Herald writes, "Peanut butter is the champion of comfort food." The numbers, however, don't bear this out. According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, American peanut consumption peaked in 1989 and then declined through to 1995 before picking up again... until a second decline in demand that began in 2000.

Another possible explanation is the so-called "hygiene hypothesis": We've made homes and schools so clean that young children don't get exposed to infectious microbes needed to "train" their immune systems. Thus, children's bodies react strongly to even a minor irritant like peanut. Anecdotal evidence agrees: many children with peanut allergies also suffer from eczema, hay fever, and other food allergies, indicating immune system problems. Last year, researchers at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center found evidence directly supporting the hygiene hypothesis, noting that early exposure to certain bacteria decreases allergic reactions in mice.

There's some thought that peanut allergies are increasing in children because kids are being exposed to peanuts earlier in life. Several studies have even shown that ***-feeding mothers who eat peanuts can pass along allergy-causing proteins to their babies; a finding that in 1998 led Britain's chief medical officer to officially warn against maternal peanut consumption. But again, unless significantly more mothers are eating peanuts now than ever before--which doesn't appear to be the case--this doesn't explain why more babies should be getting allergies. A possible reason, put forward by a 1999 paper in the journal International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, is that some recently introduced infant vaccines may induce sensitization to food proteins that happen to be in a child's system at the time of vaccination. If a mother eats peanuts and then breastfeeds just before her child's shots, allergy results.

Some doctors believe that stats on peanut allergies are exaggerated because many reported "allergies" are in fact cases of food intolerance. The difference? An allergy is caused by the immune system reacting to food proteins, whereas intolerance is a bodily reaction to chemicals in the food. For example, sulphite preservatives in bread, sausages, and dried fruit can trigger asthma-like symptoms. Lobby group Food Intolerance Network reports that children are especially prone to react to such chemicals because they consume a higher dose per weight than adults. Given that the symptoms of food intolerance can be almost identical to allergy, bad run-ins with chemicals may get reported as allergic reactions, creating the impression that allergies are on the rise. This may explain why a reported 20% of children "outgrow" their peanut allergies.

These false allergy reports may suggest one final explanation: We're not more allergic, we just think we are. One oft-quoted study by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, showing that peanut allergies in children have doubled in the last decade, was carried out by phoning people and asking them about their allergies. Thus, the results in fact don't show a doubling of kids with allergies, only a doubling of people who think their children have a problem. Some surveys show that as many as 30% of people believe they have a food allergy, while official estimates put the number at only 4 to 8% for kids and 1 to 2% for adults. Without a medical examination, it's impossible to separate true allergy cases from other health conditions with similar symptoms, of which there seem to be many.

Peanut allergy can be tested for in three ways:

  1. Allergy skin test. A drop of weak solution of peanut is placed on the skin whereupon the skin is being pricked with a needle; results show within 15 minutes.
  2. Peanut RAST test. A blood test that measures the amount of IgE (allergic antibodies) against peanut.
  3. Peanut challenge. If symptoms suggest an allergy, but both skin and blood test are negative, a tiny amount of peanut is given under hospital supervision to monitor reactions.
If you're worried that you or your child may develop peanut allergy, take a look at the facts. With only 200 deaths a year, the danger doesn't seem as widespread as the media and health authorities would like to make us believe. How likely is are you to die from peanut allergy?

In comparison, the risk is the same as dying from a collision with a deer stepping in front of your car (200 deaths a year). And you're more than twice as likely to get killed by a vending machine (547 deaths in 2001).

And don't forget that scientists now estimate that there's a 1 in 300 chance every year that a meteor large enough to vaporize a city the size of New York could strike the Earth.

So, if you want to be paranoid about something, get a telescope and check the sky for rogue rocks ready to destroy our planet. And don't forget to let your kids play in the dirt.
 





Posted 11-29-2004 11:04 PM by Doug Casey
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