Climate Change and Increased Peanut Allergy: A Possible Connection

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Studies have already demonstrated the effects of climate change on plant pollination, and on rash-producing greenery such as poison ivy.

The allergen content of ragweed pollen, for instance, increases as carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations go up, and in high CO2 environments poison ivy becomes more toxic.

It is possible then, that our upward trending global climate is also impacting the allergenicity of some plant foods, such as peanuts.

CO2 Climb

The concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has risen significantly, because of human activity, since the preindustrial era:

  • The global CO2 level was about 280 parts per million (ppm) in the year 1750.
  • In 2005, global CO2 was around 379 ppm.
  • By 2100, if human activity continues as is, CO2 will is predicted to be at least 540 ppm.

This upward trend of CO2, along with higher temperatures, has significant effects on airborne allergens including the pollen season, pollen toxicity, pollen amount, and distribution.

Food Allergy and Climate Change

There are several ways that climate change can affect plant food allergens as well.

For instance, some plant proteins associated with allergies are generated in response to environmental stress. Consequently, higher temperatures and CO2 levels may trigger increased production of these allergenic proteins.

Change in CO2 and temp levels also have a direct impact on plants’ chemical processes such as photosynthesis, storage, and reproduction.

Peanuts and Climate Change

Although the influence of climate change on plant food allergens has barely been researched, climate effects on certain attributes of peanut plants has been studied.

The experiments revealed that, like many other types of flora, peanut plants react to changes in CO2 concentrations and temperature. The reaction includes alterations in the development of peanut seeds.

These findings make climate-related changes in peanut allergen content a plausible hypothesis–and such changes might account, in whole or part, for today's increased incidence of peanut allergy.

Climate Consequences

It is obvious that climate change carries serious implications for human health, including escalating problems associated with airborne allergens (e.g., asthma, allergic rhinitis).

The prevalence of peanut and other food allergies might also rise as our global temperature and CO2 levels do. Time, and maybe new research, will tell.

Source: Paperity Photo credit: Bob Peterson

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