Nutty Over Nut Allergies

If you don’t have kids, or if you are new to the parenting scene, you might be wondering what in the world has caused all of the nuttiness over nut allergies? Why are peanuts no longer served on the airlines?  And why are entire schools “nut-free” zones? When we were kids, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches were a diet staple and roasted peanuts were synonymous with baseball and apple pie. However, times have changed.  And before you jump to conclusions about yuppiedom, over-reporting, and abnormally cautious parents, you might consider that between 1997 and 2007, the number of children under 18 who suffered from food allergies did increase 17%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And unfortunately, many children today do not respond to nuts with a sniffly nose or scratchy throat. Some are deathly allergic…deathly allergic in the form of anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine (adrenaline) injector (EpiPen) and a trip to the emergency room… for constriction of the throat, severe drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness. Bad stuff. So what is causing this phenomena?  Well, here are some theories, all of which are speculative, of course. The hygiene theory- yes, we are clean freaks in the US. Clean water, antibiotics, and vaccines have eliminated challenges to our immune systems, which are designed to fight foreign stuff…parasites, viruses, and infection. With no nemesis, the body seeks out other substances to battle, such as eggs, wheat, and peanuts, creating an “over reactive immune response” to certain food products (an allergic reaction). Other potential factors:
some suspect that limited food choices of Westerners may also be a culprit of the food allergy conundrum. People don’t eat seasonally anymore; they eat about 20 foods over and over, in different combinations. Therefore, by “focusing” our diets, the immune system is less able to deal with the constant influx of the same foods (and unfortunately, nuts or nut byproducts are found in more items than ever before, due to their prevalence in processed foods and personal-care products…for instance, nuts are especially common in lotions, which absorb into the skin). Finally, no one really knows why some children develop allergies and others don’t. However, with a little bit more understanding about the topic, we can hopefully extend some grace to those families dealing with this life & death issue, without creating mass hysteria…and without being so nutty as to black-list Snickers bars and peanut butter cups.

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