The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic
By Heather Fraser
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Recently, the famous Home Alone movie actor Macaulay Culkin posted a funny quip to social media. “Want to feel old? I turned 40 today.” Like a relic from another age, Culkin’s movies remind me of the America that I grew up in almost a generation ago. It was not just a time when lack of air conditioning meant that people spent more time outdoors on their porches, but also an era when seasonal allergies and asthma were the exception rather than the norm, and food allergies were uncommon.
Forty years later, food allergies are big business. On the food industry side, “allergen-free” foods are a growing, multibillion-dollar segment of the food market. On the pharmaceutical industry side, drugs, treatments, EpiPens and other interventions are likewise worth billions. In her 2010 book, The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic, Heather Fraser describes how we quickly moved from trying to sort out the causes of the allergy epidemic to simply managing symptoms. “At the end of the day,” she says, “the questions ‘how and why is this happening’ remained unanswered. What emerged instead in response to the mystery was a massive Food Allergy Industry, the infrastructure of which included billions of dollars in the sale of ‘free-from’ foods, web sites, blogs, magazines and parent-initiated lobby groups.”
Among food allergies, peanut allergy is especially problematic because it is both widespread and deadly. Fraser cites a 1991 U.S. study which determined that nine in ten food allergy fatalities “were due to ingestion of peanut/tree nuts.” Why is a food that has been consumed across the entire world for two thousand years suddenly a scourge, but only in certain countries? This is the riddle that Heather Fraser seeks to unravel, as she takes us across decades of research and science to a simple, factually sound conclusion.
Fraser educates the reader about the interesting difference between sensitization to allergens (like the allergens found in peanuts) and reactions to allergens. This distinction is an important piece of the peanut allergy puzzle. Fraser’s discussion of the most effective ways to elicit allergen sensitization in people is another vital clue to understanding the overall puzzle. The fact is that it is hard to become sensitized, because the body has important systems and defenses that seek to keep it from happening— unless we bypass them.
Fraser does an excellent job of showing how the numerous theories and factors that have been used to explain the explosion in peanut allergies don’t hold water. Can age, type of peanut, location, maternal consumption or year of birth give us any insights into why this is happening? Is it hygiene or helminths or toxins? The data show that most of these are dead ends—but not all. A few of these variables point to disturbing conclusions, such as the sudden and drastic uptick in food allergies that began around 1990, or the New Zealand study which followed over one thousand children and found that sizable proportions of the vaccinated subgroup had asthma episodes (23 percent), asthma consultations (23 percent) and consultations for other allergic illnesses (30 percent).
If the first half of the book shows why various theories cannot explain the peanut allergy epidemic, the second half seeks to make a clear case for what does explain it. In brief, as Fraser states, “Mass allergic phenomena emerged as a side effect of a late 19th century technology: vaccination.” Fraser explores historical and scientific data showing how and why vaccines and their adjuvants—the metals and other compounds used to increase vaccine effectiveness—bring about a known but ignored risk and “side effect”: allergic sensitization to the various things found in the vaccines. . . things like peanut oil. In fact, “The more effective a vaccine is, the greater the risks of allergies and other adverse effects.” And if you want to know why peanut oil became the choice par excellence for vaccines, she provides a detailed account of the fascinating history that led to this modern calamity.
I also appreciate the fact that Fraser takes the time to help modern people understand why vaccines came about and were so quickly accepted. In our time, we are separated from the horrors of the early-1800s illnesses caused by the sudden and massive urbanization of large populations along with incredibly poor sanitation and for some, subpar nutrition. But back then, if you were watching loved ones die as their skin “slip(s) off the body in sheets,” would you not also cry out for some form of protection? Initially, many people focused on the perceived benefits of vaccination, unaware of the myriad risks. Far more was unknown than known. Also, 19th-century science was undergoing rapid and radical transformation, with the relatively new germ theory—which justified vaccination—gaining more adherents. (Read Sally Fallon Morell’s and Dr. Tom Cowan’s new book, The Contagion Myth, for more on this interesting history.)
Although this book is primarily about the peanut allergy epidemic, it is full of other interesting, albeit disturbing, information. Fraser notes, for example, that “Increasingly, the health of boys and the birth rate of boys has been impacted by environmental pollutants at a higher rate than girls. . . . [I]n a small population downriver of polluting petrochemicals, female births outnumbered male births 2:1.” Indeed, Chapter Three alone was an eye-opening journey through parts of medical and Western history with which I was only partially familiar. Even the well-read among us are likely to find a lot of new information to add to our understanding of how we ended up where we are in terms of both health and medicine.
Where do things go from here? The medical community has acknowledged for quite some time that certain components of vaccines, such as gelatin, are tied to allergic outbreaks (see “Alpha-Gal Syndrome and Ticks: A False Trail?” in the Spring 2020 issue of Wise Traditions). Modern medicine also knows that the ever-increasing number of vaccines on the childhood vaccine schedule means ever-increasing risks of toxic metal accumulation in young children and a greater risk of other adverse reactions and allergies. At the end of the day, however, “Vaccination [is] less about medicine than it [is] about economics.” The vaccine industry and the adverse conditions its products create—which often require treatment for life—represent a revenue stream of billions and billions of dollars that are powerful incentives to continue with business as usual.
Fraser’s motivation for writing a thorough History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic is personal—her own child had a severe reaction to peanut butter at thirteen months of age. Thus it is a book for thinkers, driven by concern from the heart. Two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2020🖨️ Print post