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aspergillusRemember, when we were younger, eating peanut butter and jelly, or peanut butter and fluff? (I can’t believe companies made fluff … and we ate it!) We thought nothing of powering through gobs of peanut butter between buttery Ritz crackers. I don’t remember hearing about anyone going into anaphylaxis after eating a spoonful of Jif or Skippy. Today, warning labels are on everything, advertising the hazards of peanuts and the potential for peanut allergies.

Why are so many children and adults allergic to peanuts? Peanuts are actually beans. Beans (legumes) can be contaminated during storage. Either from the soil or a poor storage environment, peanuts can be infected with a mold called Aspergillus Flavus. Apergillus releases aflatoxin, a toxin which is not only carcinogenic (cancer causing), it also causes the nasty allergies associated with peanuts. In addition to the mold, peanuts themselves have proteins that can cause allergic reactions. In fact, researchers have found that heating (roasting) causes those proteins more allergenic.(1) This raises the question:  Is it OK to eat them raw (i.e., raw peanut butter) or roasted? Either way—via mold or heated proteins—you’re exposed to allergens (substances that cause the allergic response).

Why is the peanut-allergy epidemic so big now? Perhaps we introduce peanuts as a food source too early in life. Infants and children have an immature digestive systems. Foreign proteins and other undesirable digested substances can get through the intestinal lining into the blood, where they have to face the immune system. The allergic response is then created by eating a food source not meant to be eaten at an early age; it should be postponed until the digestive system is able to handle these type of proteins. Also, there seems to be more consumption of peanuts; with more consumption there is a higher incidence of allergic reactions. 

My recommendation would be to abstain from feeding your children peanuts until they are three or four years old. If the digestive system can develop enough to take on these not-so-friendly food sources, we would probably see a tremendous drop in the number of people suffering from peanut allergies. Also, if you choose to have your children vaccinated, ask the person administering the vaccine if it contains peanut oil — yeah, peanut oil, which can also have mold in it. Last, if you have peanut allergies…avoid eating peanuts! More to come on the peanut issue…

Soheila J. Maleki, PhD,a Olga Viquez, PhD,b Thomas Jacks, PhD, Hortense Dodo, PhD,b Elaine T. Champagne, PhD, Si-Yin Chung, PhD, and Samuel J. Landry, PhDc. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 112, No.1, The major peanut allergen, Ara h 2, functions as a trypsin inhibitor, and roasting enhances this function

Photo from Aspergillus Website Blog