Cashew’s Unexpected Potency as an Allergen

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in Food Allergy, Peanut & Tree Nut

European scientists have discovered that despite popular belief, peanuts may not be the allergen that causes the most severe allergic reactions. In one important study, discussed at the 2010 meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, that dubious distinction fell to the cashew.

The study, published in the European journal Allergy, found that in a group of 141 selected children with peanut or cashew allergy, the cashew group was more likely to experience shortness of breath, wheezing or cardiovascular symptoms during reaction than the peanut group. (This was despite the fact that a majority of the children with peanut allergy also had asthma.)

The Study and Findings

In 2007, researchers paired 47 children whose worst ever allergic reaction was to cashews with 94 children whose worst ever allergic reaction was to peanuts. Two children with peanut allergy were matched to every one child with cashew allergy.

The study revealed that 22 per cent of children with cashew allergies experienced shortness of breath and/or collapse compared to 1 per cent of children with peanut allergies.

Also, while oral antihistamines were most frequently used as treatment by both groups, epinephrine was administered much more often in the children with cashew allergies. (Thirteen per cent of the cashew allergic compared to 1 per cent of the peanut allergic.)

What This Means

This study is important because: it shows the severity of tree nut allergies in general, the cashew specifically and raises the issue of the need for better public awareness.

The researchers advised fellow health-care professionals that “the diagnosis of cashew nut allergy increases the odds of a severe reaction and requiring intramuscular adrenaline and should also be considered in the risk assessment.”

They noted that awareness in the public of the seriousness of tree nut allergy is also not as high as awareness of peanut allergy, which tends to get more attention in scientific studies and the media.

“Further, we now suggest that the diagnosis of cashew nut allergy increases the odds of a severe reaction and requiring intramuscular adrenaline [epinephrine],” said the researchers.

The study found that this nut allergy is on the rise. Furthermore, it can be just as challenging to avoid cashews as it is to avoid peanuts since they can hide in Asian meals, pesto sauce, desserts, ice cream, trail mixes, and other unexpected places.

More on this study, click here.