The Los Angeles Times is reporting in its Science Now section that a new study sheds light on why so many people in North America have peanut allergies. Peanut allergies are one of the most common and dangerous food allergies people face.
Those with peanut allergies have to be extra careful with everything they eat. Even a product that is manufactured in the same facility as one that contains peanuts can be dangerous.
The new study seems to indicate that the peanuts themselves may not actually be the danger; the common process of dry-roasting peanuts to enhance flavor may be the culprit.
Of Mice and Men
The study was a joint effort between Oxford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers injected mice with peanut proteins from raw nuts and from dry roasted nuts. The mice who received dry-roasted peanut samples saw a greatly increased immune response. Such an elevated reaction is a sign of allergies.
Researchers then tested mice through feeding them peanut extracts. Extracts from raw and dry-roasted peanuts were applied to the mice’s skin. Mice taking in dry-roasted samples had a dramatic immune response.
The study seems to indicate that there is something in the process of dry roasting that turns harmless peanuts into severe allergens. Study authors managed to isolate the Ara h1 allergen from peanuts and discovered that allergens in cooked peanuts have a significantly different shape. This shape seems to trigger the elevated response, which is known as the Maillard reaction.
This study, may explain why there is a marked increase in peanut allergies in North America and Europe as compared to China, Japan, and other East Asian regions. The level of food allergies across the world is generally equal. Those in East Asia tend to have fewer incidents of peanut allergies. This could be because people in the Far East tend to eat their peanuts raw, boiled or fried as opposed to dry roasted.
Researchers warn that there is a great deal of follow-up work to be done before people begin avoiding roasted peanuts. Future studies could not only confirm the results, but could uncover ways to eliminate those changes that create allergic reactions from dry roasting.
Dealing with Peanut Allergies
Those who have peanut allergies should always be careful to avoid exposure, even from cross contamination.
- Read all food labels for warnings regarding peanut-producing facilities
- Remember, packaged food ingredients can change without warning
- Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times
- Be sure your medication is up to date
- Be careful of baked goods and African, Asian and Mexican dishes
- Refined peanut oil does not have to be included on warning labels
This study is an exciting development for those who suffer with this common and sometimes deadly allergy. While the results are only preliminary, future work could yield major strides in the battle against peanut sensitivity.