Peanut allergies may be resolved simply by eating regular small doses of peanut flour, according to a UK study. Peanut allergies are an increasing problem, especially among young children, and even a small trace of peanut oil can trigger anaphylaxis, a constriction of the airways which can be fatal.
How can peanut flour cure peanut allergies?
The study is based on the principle of desensitization therapy, in which the body is gradually exposed to the allergen that it reacts to, which in this case is peanuts. Initially, very tiny doses are given, and these are slowly increased as the body builds up tolerance to the substance.
An initial study involving 23 children with serious peanut allergies seems to indicate the success of peanut flour as a method of desensitization, with 21 of the children showing an enormous improvement after six months. After the six month study, these children were able to eat up to twelve peanuts a day without experiencing an allergic reaction.
Should we try this on our child?
Experts are eager to point out that this type of therapy should not be attempted at home, and that the treatment is still very much in its early stages. A larger trial is taking place at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, which will follow the progress of 100 children with severe peanut allergies over a one year period.
The children are initially given just 5 milligrams of peanut flour per week, mixed with yogurt, but it is hoped that this can be increased to 800 milligrams per week over the first six months. During the first six months, doses of peanut flour will be given daily, but after this point peanut flour will only be given once a week to try to maintain long term tolerance levels. Some of the children will be randomly selected to receive a different type of flour to check for a placebo effect.
What difference could this treatment make?
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science at their conference in San Diego, the study leader Dr. Andrew Clark said, “The families involved in this study say that it’s changed their lives.”
People with severe peanut allergies live in constant fear of an allergic reaction, and continually need to check food labels to be sure they don’t accidentally consume traces of nuts.
For parents of young children with food allergies, the worry is enormous. It becomes difficult to eat out, or to let children eat at friends’ houses or at school. Normal snacks are out of bounds, and children with peanut allergies usually miss out on birthday cakes and other special treats.
What is a peanut allergy?
A peanut allergy is a common allergy that usually develops in infants, and unlike many other allergies, it is rarely outgrown. The immune system of a peanut allergy sufferer mistakes peanut proteins for a harmful substance and reacts by releasing histamine into the bloodstream to fight it.
The allergic response to peanuts tends to be very fast, occurring within a few minutes. It can occur when peanuts are directly ingested, when traces of peanut are introduced to foods during processing or handling, or when traces of peanut are inhaled, perhaps from a peanut oil cooking spray.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction to peanuts can include:
- Skin reaction such as swelling or hives
- An itchy tingling feeling around the mouth area
- Stomach pain, nausea, or diarrhea
- A tight chest and shortness of breath
Anaphylaxis is a restriction of the airways caused by an allergen, and peanuts are its most common cause. It requires immediate treatment with an adrenaline injector and symptoms include a sudden decrease in blood pressure, a rapid pulse, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. If you have only had a mild allergic reaction to peanuts in the past, you are still at an increased risk of a severe reaction in the future.