Childhood food allergies are linked to your race rather than to the environment, a new study from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and the NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports. Research conducted at Henry Ford Hospital shows that race and possibly genetics play a role in children's sensitivity to developing allergies.
In the USA, peanut butter sandwiches are a staple of the diet of many children who bring snacks or lunch to school. And Hormel, the maker of Spam, announced on January 3, 2013 that it will purchase the Skippy peanut butter brand from Unilever for $700 million in cash.
Peanuts and peanut butter are popular across the country, especially when it comes to children's foods. The peanut butter and sliced bananas or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches seem to be a staple. But if you are allergic to peanuts, just sitting next to a child in school eating foods containing peanuts can make you ill. The big issue this season is why is peanut allergy symptoms rising so rapidly in African-American children?
Researchers from the Henry Ford Health System found that African-American children were sensitized to at least one food allergen three times more often than Caucasian children. African-American children with one allergic parent were sensitized to an environmental allergen twice as often as African-American children without an allergic parent., according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Henry Ford Hospital and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded the study.
Race linked to childhood food allergies, not environmental allergies
Research conducted at Henry Ford Hospital shows that race and possibly genetics play a role in children's sensitivity to developing allergies. Researchers found:
- African-American children were sensitized to at least one food allergen three times more often than Caucasian children.
- African-American children with one allergic parent were sensitized to an environmental allergen twice as often as African-American children without an allergic parent.
"Our findings suggest that African Americans may have a gene making them more susceptible to food allergen sensitization or the sensitization is just more prevalent in African American children than white children at age 2," explains Haejim Kim, M.D. in the February 23, 2013 news release, Race linked to childhood food allergies, not environmental allergies. "More research is needed to further look at the development of allergy." Dr. Kim, a Henry Ford allergist and the study's lead author, presented the study on February 23, 2013 at an annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Sensitization means a person's immune system produces a specific antibody to an allergen. It does not mean the person will experience allergy symptoms
According to an AAAI study from 2009-2010, an estimated 8 percent of children have a food allergy, and 30 percent of children have multiple food allergies. Peanut is the most prevalent allergen, followed by milk and shellfish.
The Henry Ford study consisted of a longitudinal birth cohort of 543 children who were interviewed with their parents and examined at a clinical visit at age 2. Data included parental self-report of allergies and self-reported race (African American or white/non-Hispanic). The children were skin-tested for three food allergens – egg whites, peanuts and milk – and seven environmental allergens.
- 20.1 percent of African-American children were sensitized to an food allergen compared to 6.4 percent in Caucasian children.
- 13.9 percent of African-American children were sensitized to an environmental allergen compared to 11 percent of Caucasian children.
- African-American children with an allergic parent were sensitized to an environmental allergen 2.45 times more often than African-American children without an allergic parents.
An estimated 440,000 children and adults under 45 suffer anything from a mild stomach upset or rash to a life-threatening collapse when they eat even one peanut
African children living in Africa are weaned on a ground peanut or peanut butter soup mixed with other ingredients such as vegetables. But in the USA and Europe, has the genetic composition of peanuts changed over the centuries?
In those with severe peanut allergies, exposure to even a tiny amount of nut can trigger an anaphylactic reaction involving sudden swelling, breathlessness and low blood pressure requiring emergency medical treatment. Doctors remain baffled by the rise in food allergies. Can it have anything to do with the changes in genes of the peanuts, the pesticides on them, or the changes in genes of the people regarding food sensitivities? When it comes to wheat, for example, the wheat of today has been genetically changed since the dawn of agriculture thousands of years ago.,
For those most severely affected by food allergies (or bee stings), sufferers have to carry syringes of adrenaline with them for injection in the event of an anaphylactic attack. But specialists say there is hope of a treatment that would prevent people suffering life-threatening reactions.
The best prospect is preventive immunotherapy, a technique already used in other allergies, aimed at curbing the immune response or inducing tolerance to the allergic trigger. The technique is based on challenging the patient with gradually increasing doses of peanut to train the immune system to cope with them. For hay fever and similar allergies, this has traditionally been done by injection, but it is not possible for peanuts because of the risk of a life-threatening reaction, according to the August 5, 2009 article in the British publication The Independent, "Crunch time for peanut allergies."
Oral tolerance tests uses increasing doses of peanut given over several weeks
Some researchers have attempted oral tolerance tests in which increasing doses of peanut are given over a period of weeks. Others have used novel drugs to suppress the immune system or engineered peanut proteins to produce an immune response without triggering dangerous side effects.
If a child has a severe, life-threatening sudden reaction to eating one peanut, why take a chance outside a hospital of putting a peanut near the child unless help is available if the child can't breathe or goes into other types of severe shock?
Genetically modified peanuts by altering the proteins in the plant
To counter the threat of a severe reaction to peanut exposure, scientists have tried to grow genetically modified plants, designed to produce non-allergenic peanuts. In 2007, researchers at North Carolina Agricultural University claimed they had succeeded. However, as several proteins are involved in the allergic response, the process is thought unlikely to produce anything recognizable as a peanut.
Some doctors suggest pregnant women and young children to avoid peanuts. Others say there's too much omega 6 fatty acids in peanuts to eat a lot of them. Other experts say this may be exacerbating the problem. In parts of Africa, where peanuts are made into a soup for weaning, the problem of peanut allergy does not exist. The question is whether depriving children of exposure to peanuts early in life may increase the risk of an allergic reaction later?
Testing children for peanut or other food allergies
Many doctors test children with food allergies every two years to find out whether they have outgrown it. For some children, one branchy of research suggests it may last for only a few years. Others say food allergies last a lifetime, as you seen in cases of adults eating in restaurants who suddenly develop a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in food, whether it's peanuts in the food that's unseen, shellfish, or any other substance such as MSG.
The idea of outgrowing food allergies remains controversial. If you look at a study from Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Baltimore, and Arkansas Children's Hospital, who studied 80 youngsters aged from four to 14 with peanut allergy, researchers found that more than half lost their sensitivity and were able to eat the nuts without provoking a reaction.
Protecting children from food to which they're allergic
Sometimes certain children may outgrow it food allergies to peanuts or other types of food. Presently children with peanut allergy can be tested on a regular basis every one or two years. Parents wonder why y peanut allergy is increasing. Is it that the genetic makeup of peanuts have changed from what they were centuries ago in Africa, where children eat lots of peanuts in their foods and have very few peanut allergies?