Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Killer Peanuts?

No this isn't about the tainting of peanuts with Salmonella, this is about peanut allergies. A couple of years ago I was waiting for a flight out of Washington and struck up a conversation with a man sharing a table with me. He was a dentist now working full time at NIH. He told me he was working on a project that was attempting to stem the tide of the epidemic of peanut allergies.

My two children do not have the allergy but we've been affected by it because of children with the allergy in their schools. There are no peanut classrooms, no peanut lunch tables etc. I used to like getting peanuts on air flights but not any more. In fact I have no recollection of any talk about peanut allergies during any of my years in public school (ending in 1975). The epidemic of peanut allergies is relatively new and has changed much in America. But where did it come from?

This NIH researcher told me that in Israel peanut allergies are almost non-existent. The theory is that because one of the first solid foods Israelis give their children contains peanuts. It is called Bamba and is sort of like a Cheese Doodle or Cheetos with peanut flavor instead of cheese. While so many Americans feed their infants Cheerios as one of their first foods for Israelis it is Bamba. In the US for a long time parents have been admonished to keep their infants away from peanuts.

He told me that NIH was now funding a study to see if children feed peanuts early in life are less likely to get the allergy. The NY Times recently reported that early results suggest that early exposure to peanuts reduces the risk of peanut allergies.

The study, By Du Toit et al. was published in November of 2008 and compared the risk of peanut allergy amongst Jewish children in the UK to those in Israel. By using only Jews the researchers eliminated the possibility any differences were due to differences in ethnicity. They found a 10 fold increase in the likelihood of having peanut allergy amongst the children from the UK.

I guess my mom didn't harm me by giving me peanut butter when I was an infant. Maybe we need to bring back Mr. Peanut


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