Not-So-Nuts about Nuts?

If you have a nut allergy, what’s the first thing you do when someone offers you a handful… Politely say no and hold your breath as you walk away? Scream and run? Or cower in a corner, rocking back and forth?

When a person who is allergic to nuts comes into contact with one, what happens is that the body recognises particular proteins from the nuts. The body then produces antibodies called “Immunoglobulin E” (IgE), which binds to these proteins. Once the IgE and protein are bound together, the body turns on all alerts – cue flashing red lights and sirens – and responds by causing anything from mild itching to anaphylaxis (the closing of the airways).

So if your response to an offering of nuts was any of the above, I wouldn’t blame you. At the moment, the main way to prevent any allergic reactions is to avoid nuts altogether.

What if the nut-wielding fiend told you that you wouldn’t have an allergic reaction to this particular handful? Sound too good to be true?

Researchers in America are currently investigating ways in which they can change the chemical structure of the proteins in cashews that are responsible for allergic reactions. As the protein structure is not the same, IgE finds it more difficult to identify these proteins. If the IgE doesn’t bind the protein, no alerts and no allergic response.

There are a few different ways in which to alter the structure of proteins, however many of these ways involve harsh chemicals. Chris Mattison, PhD, who leads the teams researching the de-allergenisation (I may have made that word up) of cashews, says that they were aiming for a way to change the protein structure using much safer reagents, and found that the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) sodium sulphite worked a treat. The aim is to eventually apply this same technique to other nuts, including peanuts.

Where I found this story: Making cashews safer for those with allergies

More information on Mattison’s Research Project: Primary and Secondary Prevention of Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy

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