Peanuts can cause one of the most serious allergic reactions of all food products. Researchers speculate that early exposure to peanuts might increase a child’s risk of developing this potentially deadly allergy, but a new twin study suggests otherwise.
The Risk of Early Exposure
“We found that genetics account for 81.6 percent of the risk of peanut allergy,” explained study author Scott H. Sicherer, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy and immunology at Mr. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
There has been a mounting concern that early exposure to peanuts, either during infancy or even in prenatal exposure, might trigger a peanut allergy. Peanut allergies affect about 0.6 percent of the U.S. population and are increasing in numbers. Few people outgrow the allergy, and the allergic response can be fatal. Managing a peanut allergy is difficult because of the omnipresence of the nut, its versatility and its stealth inclusion in many everyday products that are not so obvious (birdcage liner, for instance). It is a serious health concern.
A Genetic Link
The new twin study brings some fresh insight into the genetic properties of the peanut allergy. Researchers interviewed twins and their families about the history of the allergy, who had the allergy, and what their reactions were. They found that 65 percent of identical twins shared the peanut allergy while only 7 percent of fraternal twins did.
The fraternal twin rate is the same rate non-twin siblings experience. But it would be wrong to diminish the size of that risk. According to Sicherer, the genetic link “is still 14 times higher than the risk of peanut allergy in the general population.” It is clear that genes are playing an important role in the formation of the allergy.