New hope for nut allergies

When I was growing up, I don’t remember a single one of my classmates having a nut allergy. And yet today, for whatever reason, more children are carrying EpiPens to school than ever before.

Obviously, something has changed — but that’s not what I want to talk about today. At least, not exactly.

Today, I’d like to share a study that offers a bit of awesome news for parents of children on the unfortunate end of these modern statistics. Namely that, contrary to common belief, most children with tree nut allergies aren’t actually allergic to all nuts and seeds.

Which means that, with proper supervision, your child may be able to incorporate some of these nuts and seeds safely into their diet after all.

I probably don’t need to point out what a game-changer this is. So many parents live with daily panic, given the ubiquitous nature of nuts — and having received the previously standard advice to keep their allergic children away from all types.

But according to this study at least, that isn’t always necessary. And, in fact, it might be contributing to the development of more allergies.

Of course, this isn’t the first we’re hearing about this new way of thinking. Experts have gone back and forth for several years now, debating the best way to both manage and prevent nut allergies.

In fact, there are two major studies now showing that early introduction of peanuts — not avoiding them, as once thought — may be the answer to our allergy epidemic. (Not that this is getting enough attention from pediatricians, mind you.)

The results of today’s study aren’t fully complete yet. But researchers looked at 133 participants from three European cities — London, Geneva, and Valencia. All were between the ages of six months and 16 years, and all had experienced a severe systemic allergic reaction to a nut within the previous year.

So far, findings show that nut allergies are far from universal. And, in fact, allergies to peanuts and walnuts, or cashews and pistachios, don’t always occur simultaneously. (This runs contrary to commonly held belief.)

In fact, 16.7 percent of the cashew-allergic children could tolerate pistachios. (Though the reverse was only true roughly 3 percent of the time.) And nearly 30 percent of the walnut-allergic children could safely eat pecans. (Though again, the reverse was only true about 6 percent of the time.)

It’s worth noting the researchers didn’t challenge pecans among the children in Valencia, because their reaction to walnuts was so surprisingly severe. (Believe it or not, walnuts are the most common nut allergy in the United States.) So clearly, we can’t throw caution to the wind just yet…

But this study offers some hope for a more normal life for nut-allergic children — especially to those younger than two, who have the highest likelihood of having only a single nut allergy.
Hopefully, investigations into the preventive value of early and frequent exposures will continue. It’s such an important piece of any allergy issue — not just nuts. But since Americans are (forgive me) so nuts over nut allergies, I can’t think of a better place to start.

This sterile world we live in is too clean to foster proper immunity in our children — and there’s no doubt in my mind that the modern rise in allergies is due at least in part to this well-intentioned hysteria.

Maybe this new study will make a difference. But in the meantime, I urge you to discuss its results with your pediatrician — and to pass it along to anyone you know with an allergic child in their lives.