It’s not uncommon to see “peanut-free zones” in today’s school cafeterias. Many children are so sensitive to nuts that simply smelling peanuts is enough to trigger a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. It makes one ask what is behind this drastic rise in allergic reactions?
Peanut allergies are especially puzzling because despite their name peanuts are not nuts. Rather, they’re part of the legume family which includes beans, soybeans, lentils, clover, and alfalfa. But, we’re not seeing record numbers of allergic reactions to foods like beans and lentils.
So why are peanuts causing such a ruckus? I can offer a few opinions why.
3 Reasons Peanut Allergies Have Exploded
1. Peanuts in the United States are typically grown in rotation with cotton. Cotton crops are heavily sprayed with the pesticide/herbicide known as glyphosate.
Glyphosate has been shown in many studies to disrupt the gut microbiome, which can alter the tight connections between intestinal cells—which can lead to a condition called “leaky gut.”
When leaky gut develops in a child’s intestinal tract, food proteins—such as peanut protein—can travel through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and cause the immune system to activate. The goal with leaky gut is to heal the intestines to reduce over activation of the immune system.
2. Peanuts can contain very high levels of mold. Aspergillus, a common toxic byproduct of mold, can grow on peanuts in part because of the moist environments they are grown in. And the immune system can react to aspergillus as it would any microbe with allergic like symptoms.
Recently, I learned that the nut butter brand Maranatha harvests peanuts in drier climates like New Mexico, and tests each batch for levels of aspergillus. If you suspect your son or daughter is sensitive to mold, this may be a brand to consider.
3. Reduced exposure to germs can fuel allergies—a term some allergists call the “hygiene hypothesis.”
If you look at the research, children raised in big families or on farms with exposure to animals have lower rates of allergies. This finding may be due to a higher frequency and variety of germ exposure, which helps to build a healthy immune response–which may prevent peanut allergies.
If the immune system is underdeveloped due to overly sanitary conditions, leaky gut is present, and/or your child is sensitive to mold, he or she may be more susceptible to developing a peanut allergy. Yet, there can be many causes of peanut allergies, so it’s important to be vigilant when introducing peanuts to your children.
What Is the Safest Way to Introduce Peanuts Into Your Child’s Diet?
According to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, it is now recommended to introduce peanuts early into a child’s development. Doing so supposedly lowers risk of developing food allergy later in life.
This recommendation may sound counterintuitive, but actually makes sense if you think about how repeated exposures can help to build immune system tolerance. The immune system is designed to recognize friend from foe, and if it’s underdeveloped it can become confused and mistakenly target friendly substances—like peanuts.
When deciding when and how to introduce peanuts into your child’s diet, I recommend consulting with your child’s pediatrician. Plus, I recommend being close to an emergency room or urgent care just in case you need to seek immediate care.