Why is Tree Nut Allergy on the Rise?
No one knows for certain why people have more allergies (including nut allergies) today than they did in the past. One theory that has gained prominence is the hygiene hypothesis.
This hypothesis states that kids growing up in industrialized countries are not exposed to the level of germs, infections and parasites as kids who grow up in less clean or modern environments. (Livestock farms, for instance, have been shown to protect against allergies, which is known as the “Farm Effect”.)
The idea is that the immune system needs these exposures to develop properly, and without them, it is underworked – and begins to develop antibodies to otherwise harmless substances, such as peanuts.
Other theories that attempt to explain a rise in food allergy include insufficient vitamin D, food processing (ie: roasting and emulsification of peanuts for peanut butter, rather than fried or boiled peanuts), and the delay of exposure to the allergen in infancy.*
*Source: 2010 FA primer. JACI
Is There a Cure?
Currently, there is no cure for tree nut allergy. Scientists are working on ways to “desensitize” patients to some allergens, including peanuts, milk and egg. The most researched and talked about form of desensitization at this point is called oral immunotherapy (OIT).
In this treatment, an allergic child consumes gradually increasing amounts of his or her allergen in an effort to retrain the immune system. Doctors have been able to show some success using this method.
While researchers believe oral immunotherapy would work tree nuts as well, this has not been studied to date.