FEB 28, 2017 6:13 AM PST

The Chemistry Behind a Peanut Allergy


Thirty years ago not many people knew someone with a peanut allergy. However the incidence of this deadly allergy has nearly tripled in recent years. No one is quite sure of the cause, but the fact remains that there are thousands of people who could die from simply breathing in peanut dust. Peanuts are actually legumes and in a different class than tree nuts, but they are still the most common nut allergy. There are 13 proteins in peanuts, and they are what cause the allergic reaction. It's not a matter of someone feeling a little ill either. People with an allergy to peanuts can have a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.

In this kind of allergic reaction, four systems in the body are affected: the skin, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system and the gastrointestinal tract. Unlike most proteins, the ones in peanuts, known collectively as ARAH1-13 do not get shut down from the chemicals in the gut. Instead they remain active and continue in the bloodstream causing the reaction to spread. Epinephrine is given to patients who have a reaction, because the chemical composition of that substance shuts down the proteins. For people who have this allergy, vigilance is key since peanuts are in many foods and cross contamination in manufacturing is possible as well.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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