In the U.S., approximately 1 to 2 percent (or more) of the population has a peanut allergy — about 3 million people — a percentage that continues to rise.
In the past two decades, the prevalence of peanut allergies has more than quadrupled, up from 0.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008 to more than 2 percent in 2010.
Peanut allergies are more prevalent among children under 3 years old, and the risk of developing this allergy increases to 7 percent for a sibling of a child with a peanut allergy. This is why peanuts are among the “big eight” food allergies, along with eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, shellfish, soy and wheat.
What’s really disturbing is that there’s no clear, definitive reason why this common food allergy is on the rise, but new research in the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet suggests that avoiding peanuts at an early age may be partly to blame.
And, on top of that, recent research shows that consuming minuscule amounts of peanut protein combined with probiotic supplements can significantly reduce peanut allergies and sensitivities in children.
Thankfully, in January 2017 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released guidelines for parents and health care professionals to assist in the introduction of peanut-containing foods at an early age. And if you or a family member does suffer from a peanut allergy, there are natural remedies to help ease peanut allergy symptoms as well as peanut butter alternatives to try.
What Is a Peanut?
A peanut is actually a legume crop that is grown for its edible seeds. Unlike most crop plants, peanut pods develop under the ground, which is why peanuts were given the specific name hypogaea, which means “under the earth.”
Although peanuts aren’t technically nuts, people tend to place them in the same category as tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts. In the U.S., peanuts and peanut butter are the most popular “nut” choice.
Peanuts and peanut butter support your metabolism and aid fat loss when you consume them with omega-3 foods, like flaxseeds and chia seeds.
Peanuts serve as a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids, dietary fiber, protein, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin B6 and magnesium. There are several studies indicating that peanuts are indeed healthy foods, including the following:
- A 2010 study published in Nutrients indicates that nut consumption (both peanuts and tree nuts) has been associated with a reduced incidence of coronary heart disease and gallstones in both genders and diabetes in women. Limited evidence also suggests that nuts have beneficial effects on hypertension, cholesterol, cancer and inflammation.
- A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 found that nut consumption, particularly peanut consumption, was associated with decreased overall and cardiovascular mortality across different ethnic groups and among individuals from low socioeconomic statuses.
There are some health issues when it comes to eating peanuts and peanut butter, including the following:
- Because peanuts are high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, they can cause an imbalanced ratio of omega 3 to 6, which is a common issue among Americans today.
- Another issue with peanut butter nutrition is that peanuts grow on the ground and they get very moist, causing the development of mycotoxins or mold. The mold on peanuts can grow a fungus called aflatoxin that can affect the health of your gut.
- Peanuts have been linked to food sensitivities, leaky gut syndrome and a slow metabolism. That’s because aflatoxin can actually compete with probiotics in your gut and thus damage digestive health. This is especially true for peanut butters that aren’t organic. The presence of mold may be a reason why so many children have inflammatory immune reactions to peanuts.
- For those of you who don’t have a peanut allergy, avoid the potentially harmful fungi peanuts typically grow by choosing Valencia peanuts or Jungle peanuts. These peanuts usually aren’t grown in the moisture of the ground, but in bushes off the ground or higher up, and that eliminates the issue with mold.
Peanut Allergy Symptoms
Peanut allergy is one of the most serious of the immediate hypersensitivity reactions to food in terms of persistence and severity.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, peanut allergy symptoms include:
- Itchy skin or hives (could be small spots or large welts)
- An itchy or tingling sensation in or around the mouth or throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Anaphylaxis (less common)
Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening whole-body response to an allergen. This is rare, but it’s a peanut allergy symptom that must be taken extremely seriously.
The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Impaired breathing
- Swelling in the throat
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Pale skin or blue lips
- Gastrointestinal issues.
Anaphylaxis must be treated immediately with epinephrine (adrenaline) or it can be fatal.
In spite of increased recognition and understanding of food allergy symptoms, food is the single most common cause of anaphylaxis seen in hospital emergency departments.
It is estimated that about 30,000 food-induced anaphylactic events are seen in U.S. emergency departments each year, 200 of which are fatal. Either peanuts or tree nuts cause more than 80 percent of these reactions.
Peanut Allergy Remedies
The only absolute cure for a food allergy is to remove the allergen from your diet completely. However, there are natural allergy relief remedies you can utilize to improve peanut allergy symptoms.
Quercetin has been shown to block allergies to certain foods, including peanuts.
A study published in the Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology analyzed the effects of quercetin on rats with peanut sensitivities. Over four weeks, the rats were treated with 50 milligrams of quercetin daily.
The researchers found that “quercetin completely abrogated peanut-induced anaphylactic reactions,” concluding that quercetin could suppress peanut allergy symptoms and work as an alternative treatment for similar food allergies.
2. Oral Immunotherapy
In the last few years, there’s been an increase in studies evaluating oral immunotherapy for peanut allergies.
In 2018, a double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenge published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that oral immunotherapy in children and adolescents who are highly allergic to peanuts may lower symptom severity during peanut exposure.
This was the third phase of ongoing trials testing the efficacy of oral immunotherapy, which is when patients receive a peanut-derived immunotherapy drug in an escalating dose program.
Here are some highlights from the study:
- 551 participants with peanut allergies, the majority of whom were between the ages of 4 and 17, received a peanut-derived drug called AR101 or placebo in escalating doses for 24 weeks.
- By the end of the trial, 67 percent of participants in the treatment group and 4 percent in the placebo group were able to ingest a dose of 600 milligrams or more of peanut protein without displaying dose-limiting symptoms.
- Those using oral immunotherapy also experienced lower symptom severity during peanut exposure compared to those taking the placebo.
- During what was called the “exit food challenge,” when individuals ingested a dose of 600 milligrams or more of peanut protein at the end of the trial, the maximum severity of symptoms was moderate in 25 percent of the participants in the treatment group and 59 percent of those in the placebo group.
A three-year study very recently published in September of 2019 evaluated the sustained effects of peanut allergy oral immunotherapy.
Here are the highlights of this most recent study:
- 120 participants with a peanut allergy aged 7–55 years were randomly assigned into one of three groups.
- One group involved taking 4,000 milligrams of peanut protein for 104 weeks and then discontinuing use, the next group received 4,000 milligrams of peanut protein for 104 weeks and then ingested 300 milligrams daily for another 52 weeks, and the placebo group received oat flour.
- Researchers found that peanut oral immunotherapy was able to desensitize individuals with peanut allergy and discontinuation or even reduction in daily peanut intake could increase the likelihood of regaining allergy symptoms.
- Over the entire study, the most common adverse events were mild gastrointestinal symptoms, which were seen in 90 of 120 patients, and skin disorders, which were seen in 50 of 120 patients. These adverse reactions decreased over time in all groups.
- Two of the patients in the peanut group had serious adverse events during the 3-year study period.
Studies like these have been so successful that the FDA advisory just recommended a peanut allergy treatment for approval.
The drug, which is called Palforzia, is a type of oral immunotherapy that’s meant to expose patients with peanut allergies to increasing doses of peanut protein in order to build a tolerance over time.
As scientists research the critical role of intestinal microbiota in the development of immune tolerance, there is more and more interest in the benefits of probiotics.
Probiotics are able to re-colonize and restore microflora in the intestinal tract.
Several studies have been recently conducted on the role of probiotics in preventing and treating allergic disorders. Some impressive findings include the following studies:
- A 2005 study conducted at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School in the U.K. indicates that the management of allergies has been shown with probiotics reducing the incidence of atopic eczema. Probiotic treatment was demonstrated in infants using lactobacillus.
- Recent studies have shown that when probiotics are combined with minuscule amounts of peanut protein, it serves as a natural form of oral immunization and can help to alleviate peanut allergies and sensitivities.
- A 2015 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology evaluated 62 children between the ages of 1–10 years who received combined therapy involving probiotic supplementation and peanut oral immunotherapy. Of the children in the treatment group, 89.7 percent were desensitized to peanuts and 82 percent achieved unresponsiveness, which means that they had reduced peanut skin prick test responses and peanut-specific IgE levels. Researchers concluded that the combination of probiotics and very small amounts of peanut protein induced immune changes that modulated the child’s peanut-specific immune response, making them more tolerant to peanuts.
- In 2017, a follow-up study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health was conducted to assess the long-term outcomes of the children who originally underwent probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy treatment 2–4 years prior. Sixty-seven percent of the children in the original treatment group were still eating peanuts. Four of the 24 children in the treatment group reported allergic reactions to peanuts since stopping treatment, but none had anaphylaxis. Researchers of this follow-up study concluded that this form of treatment provides “long-lasting clinical benefit and persistent suppression of the allergic immune response to peanuts.”
Bromelain has been traditionally used as a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling agent.
A 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine tested the efficacy of bromelain against atopic conditions such as asthma, food allergies and dermatitis.
Researchers found that bromelain inhibited allergic airway disease and the data provided additional insight into bromelain’s anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties.
These bromelain health benefits may help people with allergies to reduce peanut allergy symptoms and the results of an overactive immune system.
5. Supplement with a Multivitamin
Research has shown that children with multiple food allergies are at a higher risk of poor growth and a deficient vitamin and mineral intake.
Studies indicate that children with food allergies are commonly deficient in vitamin D, copper, zinc and selenium.
For children with allergies, a 3 to 7 day food diary can point out the possibility of vitamin deficiencies.
Making sure that children with food allergies receive the micronutrients they need will help to boost their immune system and regulate their immunological response to allergens.
6. Introduce Peanuts Earlier
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine included 640 infants (at least 4 months old but less than 11 months old) with severe eczema, egg allergy or both who were randomly selected to consume or avoid peanuts until 60 months of age.
What researchers found was “the early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy and modulated immune responses to peanuts.”
This study suggests that you may be able to reduce the risk of your child developing a peanut allergy simply by introducing peanuts to them at a very young age; however, such a step needs to be done with extreme caution, usually within the supervision of a doctor.
In early 2017, health experts, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, released clinical guidelines to aid in the introduction of peanut-containing foods to infants at an earlier age. The guidelines contain three different suggestions based on the infant’s risk:
- Infants at high risk (infants who have eczema, an egg allergy or both), should have peanut-containing foods as early as four to six months of age. Be sure to check with your infant’s healthcare provider first as he or she may perform an allergy blood test or recommend a specialist based on your child’s health and medical history. The doctor may recommend that these foods be introduced under supervision or not at all.
- Infants with mild to moderate eczema should have peanut-containing foods around six months. This may vary depending on your family’s dietary preferences. Once again, it is important to tell your healthcare provider about your intention to introduce peanut-containing foods as supervision may still be suggested.
- Infants with no eczema or food allergies can be introduced peanut-containing foods freely.
Regardless of the infant’s risk, all infants should start other solid foods before they are introduced to peanut-containing foods. You should also never give infants whole peanuts as they may choke. Instead, try peanut powder or paste in small amounts.
Related: Is Peanut Oil Good or Bad for Health? Separating Fact vs. Fiction
Peanuts may be present less obvious foods because they came in contact with peanuts during the manufacturing process. That’s why it’s so important to look for labels that guarantee the product was made in a peanut-free facility.
People with peanut allergies need to avoid all products that contain even trace amounts of peanuts, and that may be true for some of these peanut alternatives (like almond and sunflower seed butter), so read the labels carefully.
Any form of peanut oral immunotherapy should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Babies should not be given peanut oil or any food containing peanut butter unless advised by his pediatrician.
- Approximately 1 percent to 2 percent (or more) of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy — about 3 million people — a percentage that continues to rise.
- In the past two decades, the prevalence of peanut allergies has more than quadrupled, up from 0.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008 to more than 2 percent in 2010.
- It’s most prevalent among children under 3 years old, and the risk of developing a peanut allergy increases to 7 percent for a sibling of a child with a peanut allergy.
- Peanuts are among the “big eight” food allergies, along with eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, shellfish, soya and wheat.
- Peanut allergy symptoms include itchy skin, itchy throat, runny nose, nausea and anaphylaxis (in rare cases).
- Several recent studies indicate that there’s strong evidence that peanut allergies can be reduced by introducing infants to peanuts early on, and that oral immunotherapy with peanut protein helps to reduce symptom severity after peanut exposure.
- Peanuts and peanut butter can be harmful if they aren’t organic.
- Foods such as almonds, almond butter, sunflower seed butter and tahini serve as good peanut and peanut butter alternatives.
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