Allergic to peanuts? Maybe not.

All the recent fuss over unhealthy packed lunches reminded me of my standard sandwiches when I was at school – marmite and peanut butter. Salt, sugar, fat – what’s not to like?

But it’s not the salt intake that would worry schools nowadays, so much as the risks of one of my classmates keeling over from peanut allergy. Barely heard of back in the 80s, peanut allergy has become hugely common in recent years, and no-one really knows why.

But now we may have a glimmer of an answer. Standard tests massively over-diagnose peanut allergy. As many as 4 in 5 children labelled allergic to peanut using the basic skinprick tests have no reaction to eating peanuts, according to a study carried out in Manchester. Who knows how many kids have been needlessly denied the guilty pleasure of eating peanut butter straight from the jar, to say nothing of the life-long hassles of trying to avoid anything with peanut in it?

In other news, a modest study in the BMJ suggests that specialised physiotherapy can help women avoid lymphoedema, a distressing and uncomfortable side effect of some types of breast cancer surgery. Very few papers reported this, perhaps because it doesn’t sound dramatic. But it’s exactly the sort of research I like: a properly-done study of a practical approach to a serious, real problem.

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