Peanut Allergy Often Starts Early

Severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts can occur in children with their first exposure to the food -- often before age 3.After a peanut or other nut allergy is diagnosed, children are at high risk of an accidental exposure later on. In a study of children affected by hypersensitivity to peanuts, about 55% had an accidental exposure to peanuts in the 5 years after diagnosis.

Over half of those who know they have severe allergic reactions accidentally ingest peanuts outside the home, most often at school. Children with peanut allergy were at risk for accidental exposure to peanuts through processed foods that contained nuts as a "hidden" ingredient, sharing food with friends, and by coming into contact with peanut butter during classroom projects, report the researchers.

Restaurant food -- especially Asian restaurants that tend to use peanuts in many dishes -- are also risky, because of cross contamination, where peanut-free foods can inadvertently come into contact with peanut-containing foods. Because of cross contamination, people with peanut allergies probably ought to avoid nuts of all kinds. Peanuts, which are legumes, are ubiquitous and often added to foods with nuts as extenders.

The Mount Sinai researchers found that about one-third of the patients were also allergic to tree nuts, such as pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts. Seventy-four percent had asthma, 75% had eczema, and 81% of the patients had a history of allergies to other foods, such as eggs, milk and shellfish. While there are no data describing the incidence of nut allergies, estimates range between 1% and 2% of the population.

Exposure to peanuts is thought to cause approximately 100 deaths each year, making it the number one cause of death from food allergy in the US. The researchers also note that allergy to peanuts and tree nuts "appears to be rarely outgrown" and remains an important cause of food-allergic reactions in adults.

Pediatrics electronic pages July, 1998;102:e6

Dr. Mercola's Comment:

If you know anyone with a peanut allergy, I would encourage you to provide them with this excellent summary. I have recently come to the conclusion that peanuts are foods that most of use, allergic to peanuts or not, would be better off avoiding. There are several reasons for this.

The major concern is that aflatoxin is a by product of mold and is frequently present in peanuts even if they are grown organically. Non organic peanuts are also one of the crops with the highest amount of pesticides. I believe that for most of us there are better protein sources from which to choose. However, if you elect to eat peanuts, please only use the organic types.

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