Nut allergies may not last, says study

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Allergy, Food allergy, Allergies

As Europe prepares for tougher rules on allergen labeling, a new
study has found that allergies to almonds, pecans, cashews and
other tree nuts may not be lifelong.

The study, conducted by researchers at US based Johns Hopkins Children's Center, revealed that nine percent of children outgrow tree nut allergies, including some who have had severe reactions such as anaphylaxis shock.

"Our research shows that for some children lifelong avoidance of these nuts, found in countless food products, may not be necessary,"​ said Robert Wood, director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the centre.

An estimated 4 per cent of adults and 8 per cent of children in the 380 million EU population suffer from food allergies, according to the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients' Associations.

There is no current cure for a food allergy, and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction.

But a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.

Wood and his colleagues had previously reported that as many as 20 percent of children outgrow peanut allergy. The current study, which evaluated 278 children aged 3-21, explored whether the same held true for tree nuts.

The findings, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, revealed that of children allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts, those who had outgrown their peanut allergy were more likely to outgrow the tree nut allergy. However, children who are allergic to more than one type of tree nut are unlikely to outgrow their allergy.

Keeping a pace with the rise in sufferers, new European legislation cleared at the end of 2004 is to bring in considerable legal requirements to curb the risk for food allergy sufferers.

Directive 2003/89/EC, amending Directive 2000/13, ends the 20 year old '25 per cent' rule.

It heralds the mandatory inclusion on food labels of the most common food allergen ingredients and their derivatives: cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, egg, peanut, soybeans, milk and dairy products including lactose, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.

Working the new rules to their advantage, ingredients players are offering 'allergen free' alternatives for food formulations.

UK firm Tastetech, for example, recently launched a range of 'nut-free' nut flavourings for food makers keen to gain the nut-free labels and for inclusion in a raft of food applications.

But development work is reliant on fundamental science, and how their findings can shed light on the evolution of food allergies.

In January this year, food makers came one step closer to being able to identify what makes a protein more likely to become an allergen; and consequently slicing them out of food formulations.

Scientists at the Norwich-based Institute of Food Research (IFR) claim that over a hundred allergens could be classified into just a handful of protein families.

They suggest that just four 'super-families' account for more than 65 per cent of food allergens.

"Knowing what makes a protein more likely to become an allergen could make it easier for manufacturers to identify potential allergens in novel foods and ingredients, preventing them from reaching the consumer,"​ said Dr Clare Mills, head of the allergy research team at the IFR.

Related topics: Ingredients

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