African Ancestry Said to Be Associated with Higher Peanut Allergies

A study published in the October issue of Pediatrics, and headed by Rajesh Kumar, MD, MS, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a pediatric allergist at Children’s Memorial Hospital examined children’s genetic profiles to determine whether the presence of allergic antibodies to food were associated with genetic ancestry. The study concluded that African American children were more likely to be have allergic antibodies to food allergens, and that African ancestry was associated with the presence of allergic antibodies to peanut at levels typically associated with clinical peanut allergies.

“National studies show there are higher rates of allergic antibodies to food in African American individuals. We  found similar results but we also found that an individual’s genetic ancestry  (the proportion of one’s ancestors  which came from each continental group determined by genetic analysis)  increased the risk of a person having allergic antibodies to peanut above a level which is often associated with peanut allergy,” said Dr. Kumar.

On the other hand researchers did not see the same risk with self identified race which was associated with allergic antibodies to milk and egg. This may mean that there are different food allergy promoting factors associated with race compared to the factors associated with genetic ancestry. For example, dietary patterns of food introduction may differ by self identified race and affect egg and milk allergy, whereas other genetic factors or early life factors (such as vitamin D levels) which vary by genetic ancestry may be more important for peanut allergy.

More than 1100 children, mean age 2.7, from an urban, multi-ethnic birth cohort are part of this ongoing study.   “The study underlines the need for continued follow up especially in exploring environmental and genetic factors so we can answer ‘why’ there this association of peanut allergy with African ancestry,” said Dr. Kumar.  “Further rigorous research is needed to study the genetic and environmental factors which influence the rates of food allergy in U.S. urban populations.”

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, formerly Children’s Memorial Hospital, is a 23-story, state-of-the-art hospital located in downtown Chicago on the campus of its academic partner, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S.News & World Report 2013-14 Honor Roll rankings. Lurie Children’s provides pediatric care in a setting that offers the latest benefits and innovations in medical technology, research and family-friendly design. The hospital relies on philanthropic support to care for more than 149,000 children each year.

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