i’m not allergic to peanuts but…

peanuts

I figured out that I probably came down with stomach upset after eating peanuts. It’s strange, because I’m not allergic to them. I can eat peanut butter by the spoonful. I snack on peanut butter and apples during marathon training—fast energy, easy to digest, great flavour combination.

These were really nice peanuts in the shell too. A little salty, crunchy with a good mouth feel. I ate some a week ago and had stomach upset too, but I didn’t think much of it then. Two weeks in a row, and both after eating peanuts? A bit of a coincidence.

My niece apparently developed peanut allergy last year. Sis, being the helicoptor / snowplough parent that she is, immediately bought a ton of stuff including an epi-pen (I guess that’s prescribed by the doctor), a practice epi-pen, badges and circulated literature on allergies. She even gave me her nutmeg because she didn’t want to chance my niece’s nut allergy. I know allergies can be extreme, but I can’t help feeling that parents overblow things like this.

I was watching a travel & food program and remember seeing the presenter trying street noodles in Vietnam. He expressed concern after seeing the street vendor liberally sprinkle the noodles with peanuts. His guide, a Westerner who has lived in SE Asia for a long time, replied tellingly,

there are no food allergies in the third world

I don’t think the guide was trying to say anything bad about the developing world. He was probably just saying that when you don’t know where and when your next meal may come from, you simply don’t reject food, any food.

Severe food allergy on a massive scale seem to be a first world problem. Studies suggested that food allergies have risen 50% in children since 1997; with occurrence of peanut allergy tripling between 1997 and 2008. That’s staggering. Some of the increase may stem from better awareness, but a lot has to do with external factors.

Why are we allergic to naturally occurring material like nuts, seafood and pollen? There are several theories that on initial examination seem to be contradictory but on reflection may be cumulative:

  1. clean air, better sewage treatment and fewer bacteria means our immune system has nothing to attack, so it mistakes harmless allergens (food proteins, cat hair, pollen etc) for something invasive that has to be attacked — this is the popular hygiene theory and partially explains why allergies are mainly first world problems
  2. too much exposure to antibiotics means our bodies’ natural immune system have either been destroyed or have become overly dependent on medication, therefore unable to handle the stimulation when exposed to allergens
  3. we spend too much time indoors and vitamin D deficiency correlates to increases in allergies

This doesn’t explain why I all of a sudden reacted to a handful of peanuts. I don’t think I’m allergic per se, may be a mild intolerance to this particular batch, or the stomach upset is due to something else. I should eat them in moderation and check for stomach symptoms afterwards.

In the meantime, as spring approaches, I’m mentally preparing myself for another miserable year of allergies. I know I’m badly allergic to dust and pollution. There were days last year when I needed 3 antihistammines a day, when the normal dosage is one a day. I need to move to a country where the air is better.