Aug
31
2013

Peanut Allergies Are Deadly

Introduction

This article is about “peanut allergies are deadly”. In the US 1.5 million suffer from peanut allergies (Ref.1). People who have peanut allergies have to avoid peanuts and foods that contain even traces of peanuts lifelong. Here is a recent example of a 13-year old girl who died at a camp when she tried food contaminated with peanuts. Before we discuss peanut allergies in detail, we need to review first how the immune system is functioning.

How the immune system is primed to develop an allergy

Our immune system knows the difference between our own body components and substances that come from the outside. Scientists call this tolerance to our own surface proteins; and scientists call it an immune reaction that is mounting as a reaction to anything different from the surface antigens. There are different cells that make up the immune system. One of the main working cells of the immune system are the lymphocytes. A subtype are B cells that originate from the bone marrow producing antibodies when an immune reaction occurs. Antibodies fit like a lock and key to the surface of an antigen, in this case the peanut protein. T helper cells are T lymphocytes (thymus derived lymphocytes). They help the B cells to recognize the difference between the own protein components and the outside components.

IgE antibodies directed against peanut protein

There are also T killer cells, which when parasites or viruses enter the body activate them. With regard to peanut allergies, it is the B cells and T helper cells that interact. The B cells produce a powerful, very specific IgE antibody directed against peanut protein. There are memory B cells, which continue to produce these specific anti-peanut protein antibodies. They can cause severe allergic reactions when future exposure to peanuts (even traces) occurs. The more often a person allergic to peanuts encounters traces of peanuts, the more  the immune system gets boosted. This produces even more antibodies of the IgE type through reactivated B memory cells (Ref. 2). 98% of the population does not react to peanut exposure with allergies. But the other 2% who may have genetic susceptibility factors that predispose them to this often develop life-threatening reactions. These have the name “anaphylactic reaction”.

What is an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts?

The most extreme form of allergies involving IgE antibodies can cause anaphylaxis. In the beginning stages of a peanut allergy there may only mild symptoms such as hives on the skin, itching and tingling around the mouth, a runny nose, a scratchy throat, wheezing, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea. However, with a more severe allergy an asthma attack can develop. In this case the blood pressure drops leading to fainting or shock. In addition, severe airway obstruction in the throat or lungs can cause suffocation.

I vividly remember an 11-year-old boy who arrived by ambulance in the emergency room of the hospital where I was working as the on-call physician. He had a hard time talking as his throat was swelling up as part of his anaphylactic reaction, within minutes he passed out completely (shock). Fortunately, an anesthetist was in the department and could intubate him very quickly.

Period of unconsciousness

However, despite adrenaline treatment, oxygen by artificial ventilation and high doses of corticosteroid drugs he did not wake up until 10 hours later. In retrospect it turned out that he had eaten some crackers of a familiar brand that he knew as being free of peanut flour. However, he saw an ad that the same brand of crackers was available as cheese crackers and he tried one of these. This prompted his admission to the hospital. The parents read the ingredients later: the label on the cheese crackers noted in small print that the flour of the cheese crackers contained peanut flour! Always read labels, even if it is a familiar brand! Fortunately for this boy he did not have brain damage from the time of his unconsciousness. He has been extremely careful since and is reading labels and avoiding unknown food items.

Peanut Allergies Are Deadly

Peanut Allergies Are Deadly

Cross-reactions between peanuts and other allergens

Allergies can be made worse when a person has inhalant allergies from pollens of trees or grasses that can share protein components from protein found in foods. The latest findings are that there are cross allergies between Fenugreek and lupine, which are both legumes, as are peanuts, so there are common antigens present in their proteins. A mouse-testing model has shed more light on this. Fenugreek has been shown to control mild diabetes by improving insulin resistance, but it cannot be consumed by persons who are highly allergic to peanuts because of the cross allergy mentioned.

There are other possible cross allergies to legumes like lentils, soy and chickpeas.

Other factors that can cause allergies to get worse

In the past the RAST test was often used.  This is a blood test for common food allergies that can cause severe allergic reactions like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish and soy. However, since about 2010 this has been replaced by the more sensitive ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. Children who have food allergies to egg, milk, wheat, nuts, peanuts and soy often outgrow these allergies when they age, in other words their immune system can develop tolerance to many of these foods. Not so with peanut allergies! They tend to be very persistent.

Immune responses to food allergies are complicated

There are complications with immune responses to food allergies. They contained immediate type immune reactions and delayed type immune reactions. Allergists investigate the immediate immune responses with the above mentioned ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. They can measure the delayed immune responses using the ELISA test. Positive IgE antibody tests for peanut protein are a marker that the person likely has more other allergies. An allergist should investigate them in that regard (Ref. 2).

New wheat varieties complicate the lives of people with allergies

What complicates the allergy sufferers’ lives even more is the fact that new wheat varieties were introduced. This happened in the 1970’s. The new wheat has the name Clearfield wheat. It has a much higher gliadin (gluten) and lectin content than the old wheat varieties. As a result of exposure to this new type of wheat gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome have increased substantially in the world population (Ref.3). In addition, genetically modified foods like soy, corn, sugar beets, canola and others have challenged the immune system of sensitive humans even more.

Autoimmune diseases from GMO food and modern wheat

We do know that some people can develop autoimmune diseases from GMO foods and modern wheat, and this may be the reason that a host of diseases that belong into this disease category (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis etc.) are much more common now than in the past. The geneticists developing GMO foods were unaware how sensitive the immune system is.  The immune system detects a few different amino acid sequences in a protein mounting a strong immune response to it.

Treatment for peanut allergies

The key for sufferers from peanut allergies is to avoid exposure to it. Read labels and use common sense. If a food item has no label, do not attempt to eat it. Food manufacturers often mix peanut flour into the dough of crackers. But not every product has a label that identifies whether peanut flour is in it. Alternatively it says so only in fine print. With peanuts the antibodies usually circulate in the blood life long. The reason is that the B memory cells do not diminish and experience reactivation very quickly on repeat exposure. At this time they produce antibodies again. As exposure to peanuts can cause severe asthma or anaphylactic shock, it is important to carry an EpiPen with you and to know how to use it.

Oral immunotherapy

In Europe attempts have been made to develop an oral desensitization method for food allergies including peanut allergies, but it has not produced concrete results yet. Recently, however, research from Texas, USA showed that it is possible to desensitize patients with peanut allergy by oral desensitization. In Australia where food allergies are more prevalent than in the US, tolerance to peanut, nut and shellfish allergies is being pursued by oral immunotherapy. Another group in Australia has developed a vaccination method using peptides, which are a sequence of amino acids, but shorter than the full peanut protein. It appears that this is the future direction of treatment for peanut and other IgE allergies: a kind of vaccination treatment to induce competing antibodies, which will neutralize the allergic IgE antibodies.

Conclusion

Peanut allergies have become more troublesome as the food industry has mixed peanut flour into Thai sauces, drinks, cookies, crackers and such. The person allergic to peanuts must read food labels and eat as much single-ingredient natural food as possible. This goes against the tendency of food processors who produce foods with a long rat tale of ingredients. If you see a label “may contain nuts or peanuts”, stay away from this product, as it is safer. Always carry an EpiPen or Twinject with you, just in case you develop an anaphylactic reaction (you only have a few minutes to stop the allergic reaction with adrenaline). In the future vaccination with a peanut protein specific peptide vaccine as mentioned regarding the Australian research, will probably become the treatment of choice.

More information on status asthmaticus (an acute asthma attack).

References

1. Adkinson: Middleton’s Allergy: Principles and Practice, 7th ed. Chapter: Food Allergy. © 2008 Mosby.

2. Mandell: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed.© 2009 Churchill Livingstone.

3. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Apr
14
2013

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Springtime is the time of spring allergies: those affected develop a runny nose, itchy eyes and in more severe cases they may experience a flare-up of asthma. Allergies can be triggered by the increase of pollen counts in the air that occurs every spring. In those who are sensitive, this leads to antibody formation in the blood. But often people have not only sensitivities to the pollens of spring bloomers; they may also be allergic to spores from molds, to dust mites and may have underlying allergies to foods. The immune system has memory cells that memorize that a person has had an allergic encounter to one of these items in the past, and allergic reactions can become more significant with a future encounter. Allergies can also be made worse when a person has food sensitivities and there are cross reactions between pollens of trees or grasses that can share surface protein regions with similar protein regions in foods.

It is known that cross allergies are possible between birch pollen and apple, carrots or hazelnut. In its extreme form allergies due to antibodies, called IgE antibodies, can cause anaphylaxis. A person presensitized by inhaling birch pollen, after eating an apple, hazelnuts or a carrot can develop itching of the throat, swelling of the lips and very quickly deteriorate getting into an anaphylactic shock.

Other cross allergies exist between ragweed pollen, which is a powerful inhalant allergen and melons or bananas. Again there are specific IgE antibodies that are responsible for this immune reaction. In this case the ragweed allergy primes the immune system to produce IgE antibodies, which are potentiated by certain foods that share similar protein components as the ragweed pollen.

In the following I will deal with inhalant allergies separately from food allergies.

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Inhalant allergies

Inhalant allergies are easier to diagnose and to treat than food allergies. Your doctor will likely refer you to an allergist when you have allergies that do not respond to treatment with intermittent over the counter antihistamines. Your symptoms may come on in the spring with itchy eyes and a runny nose. From year to year you find that you become more and more dependent on antihistamines and nose drops to unplug your nose. The allergist likely will do sensitivity tests, which consist of skin prick or scratch tests on the back or the forearms.

In more serious allergies, where the patient has coughing and wheezing attacks following allergic reactions, the allergist may suggest to start intermittent allergy injections alongside the standard inhalation therapy for asthma. An allergy serum is prescribed where the lab mixes ingredients based on all of the positive tests that led to a strongly positive skin reactions when allergy testing was done. Typically the family doctor or his nurse will start the allergy injections initially in weekly intervals, later when the maintenance dose is reached, it may be modified to injections every 10 to 14 days.

The allergy injections stimulate the immune system to produce harmless competing antibodies, which counteract the disease producing allergic antibodies. In the process of desensitization shots the immune system will normalize, which means that the inflammatory response of the immune system settles down to normal.

This is not the end of the story with inhalant allergies. The patient needs to be retested on a yearly basis by the allergist. The immune system changes all the time as new allergies can develop and old ones may go away.

Retesting is necessary to keep track of what is going on and to change the composition of the allergy serum. Those patients who are working together with the allergist can do very well, and often they gradually outgrow their allergies. Others may not be so lucky. They may have reactions to the allergy injections. In these cases avoidance of what causes the allergy may be the only solution to treat the allergies.

There is an alternative to allergy injections, which has been used in Europe, namely a sublingual immunotherapy. Recently there has been a review of the literature for FDA approval that is needed for oral desensitization for ragweed, dust mites, grass pollen and cat dander. It will take some time before the FDA approval process will become a reality for sublingual desensitization in the US.

A special form of inhalant allergies are allergies to pets (mainly dogs and cats, but also allergies to petting zoo animals). The dander that the human comes in contact with is a protein contained in the animal hair. It causes hives when it touches the skin. This occurs as the dander is absorbed through the skin and meets the local mast cells that release histamine. This in turn is responsible for the hive formation. Sneezing and even asthma can develop from inhaled protein particles that reach the lungs. Allergy injections for the treatment of animal dander allergies are very limited as they often do not help or make the allergies worse. Avoidance of animal contact is usually what the allergist recommends as the solution, a recommendation, which often is not appreciated by the affected animal lover.

Food allergies

Often we eat  some foods more frequently, because they are our favorites. This means that our gut lymphocytes that get in contact with these foods can start to react to one or more of the foods we ingest. At this time we may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and a host of other possible symptoms.

The physician will tell the patient that testing for food allergies is a problem as most of the usual skin tests employed for inhalant allergies do not reliably work in determining food allergies. The doctor will ask the patient or the mother of the child with food allergies to keep a food diary and keep track of the allergic symptoms in the diary as well. An elimination diet will have to be devised based on the information gathered in the diary as it becomes clear from that record which foods cause which symptoms. The foods causing allergic symptoms are subsequently eliminated. This is a cumbersome process, but it is the most reliable method of testing and treating food allergies.

In the past there was a blood tests, called RAST test, which tested for common food allergies that can cause severe allergic reactions like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish and soy. Since about 2010 this has been replaced by the more sensitive ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test.

Children often develop food allergies to egg, milk, wheat, nuts, peanuts and soy, which are food allergies with positive IgE tests. When they age, their immune system develops tolerance to many of these foods and they often outgrow these allergies.

There are other popular lab tests where a blood drop is analyzed with IgG, IgM and IgE antibodies against a panel of foods. A number of suppliers offer these tests.  However, the specificity, sensitivity and reliability can pose problems with regard to the interpretation of the results: allergists often point out that a test may be a false positive when a person likes certain foods and IgG antibodies against this food show up despite the patient having no symptoms. Another specialist may interpret this to indicate that the body shows early sensitization to a certain food, but clinically it is not yet obvious. In other words the sensitivity of the test is so high that it undermines the validity of the test. Recently a panel of international scientists reviewed the validity of these IgG based food intolerance tests and they found the tests not reliable.

The immune responses to food allergies are complicated as there are immediate type immune reactions and delayed type immune reactions. The immediate immune responses are investigated with the above mentioned ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. The delayed immune responses can be measured using the ELISA test.

Other considerations about allergies

You see from this discussion that a patient with allergies needs a properly trained allergist who will do a comprehensive analysis involving a thorough history, examination, blood tests and immune tests.  The test results have to be interpreted with the experience and the clinical judgment of the specialist.

Since the 1970’s when Clearfield wheat was introduced around the world on a large scale, which has a much higher gliadin (gluten) content than the old wheat varieties. As a result of exposure to this new type of wheat gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome have increased substantially in the world population. Genetically modified foods like soy, corn, sugar beets, canola and more have challenged the immune system of sensitive humans even more to an extent, which is not fully understood yet. We do know that some people can develop autoimmune diseases and this may be the reason that a host of diseases that belong into this disease category (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis etc.) are much more common now than in the past.

After food elimination for 2 to 12 months depending on the severity of the food allergy, your body may have eliminated the allergy to the food you have avoided, in other words your body built up tolerance. Before you expose yourself to any food that you used to be allergic to and that you want to re-test, it is best to have an EpiPen ready in case your allergy has not resolved. Caution is necessary with regard to foods that cause more severe allergies, e.g. shellfish or peanuts, which may last life long. It is safer to avoid these foods that cause more severe allergies altogether.

Allergic reactions of the immune system belong into the category of chronic inflammatory diseases. These are known to be the root of chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. When you are vigilant about allergies and get proper assessment and treatment by an allergist, you will prevent serious health problems including the above mentioned chronic diseases.

More on asthma, which is a chronic inflammatory lung condition, often associated with multiple environmental allergies:

http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Jan
03
2013

Thinking Of Health In The New Year

As we start a New Year it is a good time to reflect on our health, what makes us healthy, what keeps us healthy and what makes us age less quickly.
Here are a few thoughts, partially my own, partially influenced by the 20th Anti-aging conference in Las Vegas in December of 2012.

1. We know that cigarettes are no longer in, but in the casinos of Las Vegas and outside of restaurants a lot of people are still smoking! Here is a website that tells you why you should quit.  Cigarettes cause lung cancer, hardening of the arteries, strokes, and often reduce life expectancy by 10 to 15 years. So, if you are smoking do anything to quit this habit! Acupuncture helps, Nicorette assists you in overcoming the addiction part of smoking. Self hypnosis discs are also helpful.

2. Reduce toxins in your life: you may think that toxins consist of lead, mercury and other heavy metals and that only people in certain industries would be exposed to those. Not so. It is in the air we breathe. Your tooth fillings (silver amalgam fillings)may leech out mercury, old paints at home could still expose you to lead, as would fashion jewelry made in China. Various foods contain toxins in them in form of residues from herbicides and insecticides. How do we detoxify? Vitamin C is a good start. It can be taken as a daily vitamin supplement (see below). Detoxification can be done intravenously, if urine and blood tests show high levels of toxins. This is something an anti-aging doctor or a naturopathic doctor can help you with. Glutathione and vitamin C can be given intravenously for chelation treatment with the least side-effects. Here is a link that tells you more about chelation in general.

3. Cut out wheat and other genetically modified foods: What’s the thing about wheat? Read my blog about this.
All of the wheat we get today in bread, cereals, pasta, pizzas etc. has been genetically modified and has about 7 times the gliadin concentration that the original wheat species had before BASF did the chemical modification of  wheat in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Today practically all of the commercial wheat is this type.
As a result I have avoided wheat in my food intake since 2001. When you avoid wheat and sugar, which is another culprit (sugar is simply too strong for your body to handle and leads to hyperinsulinism and diabetes) you will likely loose whatever weight is too much for you without any effort.

Thinking Of Health In The New Year

Thinking Of Health In The New Year

4. Eat only organic food , if you can afford it. Or grow your own vegetables and lettuce in your vegetable garden, if you can. Because of what I said under point 2 above, I stay away from regular vegetables and lettuce that are sold in super markets as they contain residues of round-up (herbicides) and insecticides on them. Organic food nowadays is affordable as enough of us demand it. Even Wal-Mart has some organic foods! Keep an eye on your body weight and aim for a body mass index between 21.5 and 23.0. Several long-term studies have shown that the BMI is worth observing in order to reduce mortality.

The Singapore Chinese Health Study: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0014000

The Buffalo Health Study:  http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/146/11/919.full.pdf+html

5. Exercise regularly 5 to 7 times per week. Perhaps one of the most important points is regular exercise. If you engage in ½ hour of vigorous exercise three times per week you will reduce your probability of coming down with a serious illness that could kill you by 15%. If you exercise 5 to 7 days per week for 30 minutes or more this percentage goes up to about 40%. If you exercise 60 minutes 6 to 7 times per week in a gym, you reduce mortality by about 50 to 60%. Here is an interesting graph that shows that older adults benefit more from exercise than younger adults do.

6. Have a yearly check-up including a check-up of your hormone status: As we age, our hormones reduce in a characteristic patterns with melatonin and growth hormone production going on a downhill slope after the age of 30, followed soon by DHEA and cortisol. Often by the time a woman reaches menopause at the age of 35 to 50, there is a lack of estrogens, progesterone, and often also of thyroid hormones. In a man this decline (andropause) may take longer until the age of 55 to 65 before he experiences a lack of energy, erectile dysfunction and muscle weakness from testosterone deficiency. Sex hormones are best measured in saliva samples, the remaining hormones in blood samples. Here is a website that describes the various hormones that often need replacement (note that I am not endorsing this center, just citing it as an example of what to look out for).

7. Replace hormones only with bioidentical hormones: When there is a hormone deficiency, a doctor would usually replace the deficiency with synthetic hormones from Big Pharma. This was good for the profits of the companies, but bad for people as the Women’s Health Initiative has shown.
As a result of this study (showing heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer) a lot of American women and women around the world were unjustly horrified of hormone replacement. However, many trials with bioidentical hormones around the world have proven that bioidentical hormone replacement with hormone creams from compounding pharmacies add years of life expectancy as these hormones restore all body functions back to normal. No breast cancer, no heart attacks and no strokes were noted on these natural hormones. The key is to replace with low doses and slowly under the supervision of a naturopathic physician or anti-aging physician.
Here is a site that explains bioidentical hormone replacement (note that I am not endorsing this center, just citing it as an example of what to look out for).

8. Have hobbies, cherish friendships. Social networking is good for your emotional health. It reduces stress, re-balances your hormones, reduces your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

9. Don‘t neglect your spirituality. Be part of a church community that builds you up, if you are religious. For those who no longer belong to a church group, meditate instead, use yoga, do self hypnosis or read an inspiring book. Music can energize you or contribute to relaxation.

10. Use vitamin and mineral supplements. There are a number of vitamins and minerals that have anti-oxidative effects. They help to detoxify your body and protect you from some of the environmental challenges. I have discussed them elsewhere in more detail under this link.

So, here they are, the 10 steps to a healthier 2013. Review what you are doing in your life . You may need to only modify the one or the other point. Otherwise, if you have identified several points you want to change, just start with the ones you feel can be achieved the easiest first and then gradually tackle the rest. You will be rewarded with more energy and you will probably find it difficult to hide your successes from your friends.

Last updated January 3, 2013