Nut what? Making sense of some food allergies

by Leigh Felesky, CBCNews.ca

My son was around three when he helped himself to a tray of nuts at a Christmas party. The food table was toddler-high and full of festive goodies. No one was paying too much attention until he said, "Mommy, I don't feel well."


(Leigh Felesky/CBCNews.ca)

Less than one minute later he had a bout of projectile vomiting that was enough to make the party pause.

Not sure what to make of it as he's never thrown up easily, I investigated the next week, starting with the pediatrician and ending at the allergist. The diagnosis? My son had a potentially fatal allergy to all tree nuts. Peanuts, which are a legume, are ok.

Ah, this left me chewing on my nutcracker. I was someone who always wondered if banning nuts from schools was really necessary, and who was sure that kids with nut allergies were rare and over-diagnosed.

But perhaps I was always wrong. According to Anaphylaxis Canada, "More than half Canadians (56 per cent) know of someone with a peanut or nut allergy. In the Prairies and in the Atlantic provinces even more people (60 per cent and 62 per cent respectively) have come in contact with a sufferer of peanut or nut allergies. Only 5 per cent of Canadians claimed personally suffering from the ailment."

But, why? What causes this? No one had nut allergies that I knew of when I was growing up.

In the past two years my interest has peaked and here are the theories I've heard:

Theory 1: Nut allergies are on the rise because moms aren't eating nuts when they're pregnant, so the baby isn't exposed early.
My experience: FALSE, I eat nuts, then and now.

Theory 2: Nut allergies are on the rise because of a hyper-clean environment, antibacterials everywhere.
My experience: FALSE, my house has its share of dust bunnies and I don't use antibacterial anything.

Theory 3: Nut allergies are on the rise because of an increase in the use of soy, which is a highly allergenic legume.
My experience: Maybe this makes a difference for peanut allergies (soy and peanuts are both legumes), not sure. But what about tree nuts, they're different ....

Theory 4: This one is the most difficult to disprove and possibly the scariest: nut allergies are on the rise because of all the crap we eat and pollutants in the air. Our immune systems are turned on and become hyperactive as early as ineutero, which causes more allergies.
My experience: Possibly, I don't know. Could it be that in one generation we've managed to create such a toxic environment that immune systems are going, well, nutty?

I'm not convinced, but I haven't ruled it out either. What's your theory?

Whether you're a naturopath, doctor, nutritionist, person with nut allergies or parent, tell us below why you think nut allergies are on the rise. And what do you think we can do about it?