Westerners Are Twice As Likely To Have A Peanut Allergy: Here's Why

Scientists have wondered why Westerners are twice as likely to be allergic to peanuts as people in China, Japan, North, and South Korea. Westerners and East Asians generally develop other types of food allergies in similar proportions, so what is different about the peanut? Some interested Oxford researchers have shed light on this question.

It seems that immune systems might respond differently to raw peanuts and dry roasted peanuts. Some intrepid English mice who had their immune systems primed with dry-roasted peanuts were more likely to develop a peanut allergy than mice primed with raw peanuts.

Roasting Reactions

Since dry-roasting peanuts is done more often in the West than in East Asian countries, roasting helps account for the higher peanut allergy incidence in the West. Dry roasting triggers a natural chemical food reaction called “browning” by cooks in-the-know and called the Maillard reaction by chemists.

Dry roasting causes the proteins and sugars in food to react with each other. This “browning” reaction generates AGEs, or advanced glycation end-products. AGEs are responsible for the enticing aroma of many cooked foods but may also be the culprit behind certain food allergies since they bind with specific molecules involved in the body’s immune response.

The researchers also found that the mice initially primed with dry roasted peanuts had a heightened immune response to eating both dry roasted and raw peanuts, and had significantly higher levels of a particular antibody type called IgE (immunoglobulin E). Elevated IgE levels are associated with allergic reactions. The mice primed with raw peanuts produced plenty of antibodies as well, but not as many IgEs.

Hope for Symptom Relief

Although dry roasting may be one reason there are more peanut allergies in the West, the development of a food allergy remains a blip of genetics. Most individuals can eat roasted or raw peanuts without ill-effect, but through the genetic mix and match at conception, some individuals will be allergic to one or both types of peanuts.

In case you missed it though, research completed a few months ago at another English university, Cambridge, revealed that giving tiny amounts of nuts to peanut-sensitive children can gradually desensitize them. This means their allergy may persist, but their reaction to peanuts will be less severe.

So, hats off to researchers around the world who are curious about peanuts. They answer questions we might have never thought to ask, and patiently look for ways to relieve the symptoms and anxieties that accompany food allergies.

Source: Cory Flanagan
Photo: Pixabay

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