Not all peanut allergies are alike: As temperatures increase, so does the likelihood of triggering a peanut allergy. The discovery could mean more than just an amplified allergic reaction, but may also provide the key to removing the trigger altogether. A team of researchers from Oxford University revealed the dangers of heating up peanuts and published their study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“Our results in mice suggest that dry roasted peanuts may be more likely to lead to peanut allergy than raw peanuts: the dry roasting causes a chemical modification of peanut proteins that appears to activate the immune system against future exposure to peanuts,” said the study’s coauthor Amin Moghaddam of Oxford University in a press release. “Allergies in people are driven by multiple factors, including family genetic background and exposure to environmental triggers. In the case of peanut allergy, we think we may have discovered an environmental trigger in the way that peanuts are processed by high-temperature roasting.”

In the past, a mouse’s immune system would react abnormally to dry roasted peanuts, but researchers weren’t sure if that was a red flag or not until they tested their theories and found cause for concern. Researchers exposed one group of mice to purified proteins from raw peanuts and another group to dry-roasted peanuts through their broken skin, and skin or stomach injections. Mice were exposed to peanuts that were roasted to 160 to 170 degrees Celsius. The dry roasted peanuts began to chemically change a specific group of proteins, triggering a strong immune reaction. This is the beginning of a new area of research for peanut allergies and may shed light on why a person reacts so adversely to peanuts while another person does not.

“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that a potential trigger for peanut allergy has been directly shown,” the study’s lead researcher Quentin Sattentau, a professor at the Dunn School of Pathology at the University of Oxford, said in a press release. "We know that children in families with other allergies are more likely to develop peanut allergy. However, our research is at an early stage and we think that it would be premature to avoid roasted peanuts and their products until further work has been carried out to confirm this result.”

Once they measured their immune responses and found mice to be more sensitive to dry peanuts, they retested both groups with just regular peanuts and found their reactions were even worse than the mice who were originally exposed to just peanuts. The mice who were pre-treated with dry peanut exposure had a much weaker immune system, which made researchers wonder what the heated up peanut protein is doing to their bodies. Isolating the protein that causes adverse allergic reactions could be the key to genetically modifying peanuts and producing “allergy-free nuts.”

This may ring a bell. Gluten, a protein compound found in wheat and related grains was isolated and removed. Last year the gluten-free products’ industry hit $10.5 billion last year and is estimated to climb up to $15 billion in annual sales by 2016. Today, there are approximately three million people with peanut and tree nut allergies in the United States, according to Food Allergy Research & Education. The incentives for the food industry to pony up and figure out a way to extract the allergy-causing peanut protein are high and financially persuasive.

“We think we have identified the chemical modifications involved in triggering an allergic response to peanuts, and are currently exploring methods that are food industry-friendly to eliminate these groups,” Sattentau said.

Source: Sattentau QJ, Artis D, Thomas B, Johnson S, Gartlan KH, Moghaddam AE, et al. Dry roasting enhances peanut-induced allergic sensitization across mucosal and cutaneous routes in mice. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2014.

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