(Health Secrets) Peanut allergies can be resolved by simply eating regular small doses of peanut protein, using a procedure known as peanut immunotherapy. This was the finding of researchers at Cambridge University Hospitals in the U.K. The study was the largest of its kind worldwide, and the results have been published this year in the prestigious Lancet. This is very good news, as peanut allergies are an increasing problem, especially among young children in whom the tiniest trace of peanut can trigger anaphylaxis, a constriction of the airways that can be fatal.
The research, which was carried out over five and a half years, involved 99 children between the ages of seven and sixteen with severe peanut allergy. Under medical supervision, the children were given daily doses of peanut protein, starting with a tiny dose and slowly building up over time. Allergy experts found that 84 percent of the first group and 91 percent of the second were successful at training their bodies to tolerate at least the equivalent of five whole peanuts per day.
What is peanut allergy?
Peanut allergy usually develops in infants, and unlike other allergies, it is rarely outgrown. The immune system of a peanut allergy sufferer mistakes peanut protein for a harmful substance and reacts by releasing histamine into the bloodstream to fight it.
Allergic responses to peanuts tend to come on in a matter of minutes. They can occur when peanuts are directly ingested, when traces of peanut are introduced into foods during processing or handling, or when traces of peanut are inhaled, for example during the use of peanut oil cooking spay. Peanut allergy usually remains into adulthood, severely limiting diet and quality of life.
Common symptoms of peanut allergy include:
- Constriction of the chest and shortness of breath
- Stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea
- Skin reactions such as swelling or hives which can appear as small spots or large welts
- Itchy or tingling feeling in or around the mouth and throat
Anaphylaxis is a frightening restriction of the airways that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include sudden drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, dizziness, and loss of consciousness. Anyone with even mild peanut allergy is at increased risk for anaphylaxis.
How can immunotherapy help people suffering from food allergies?
Immunotherapy is based on the concept of desensitization. It involves administration of small amounts of native or modified allergens to induce immune tolerance. The approach generally follows the same principles as immunotherapy of other allergic disorders, and involves administering small but increasing doses of food during an initial phase, followed by a maintenance phase with regular intake of a maximum tolerated amount of the food.
The Cambridge study follows an initial smaller investigation, involving 23 children with serious peanut allergies, that seemed to indicate the success of peanut immunotherapy. In this study, 21 of the children showed an enormous improvement in their peanut allergy after six months of treatment. Most were able to eat up to twelve peanuts a day without experiencing allergic reaction.
Dr. Andrew Clark, co-head of the Cambridge research team said, “Before treatment children and their parents would check every food label and avoided eating out in restaurants. Now most of the patients in the trial can safely eat at least five whole peanuts. The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically.”
The children are also enthusiastic at the results, because living with peanut allergy has always set them apart and marked them as different. Children without peanut allergy who regularly eat peanut butter sandwiches have had difficulty tolerating their special needs, and children with peanut allergy have often been bullied.
“This trial has helped me so much,” said Thomas Baragwanath, a 16 year old participant in the research. “I don’t have to worry when I go out with my friends about what I’m eating and where it comes from, what’s in it, and where it’s been prepared. I don’t have to worry at all. It has been a massive problem for me since I was a small child and I’m so thankful I’m getting rid of it.”
Don’t try this at home
Experts are quick to note that this type of therapy should not be attempted at home. Cambridge University Hospital is planning to open a peanut allergy clinic which would provide a range of services including immunotherapy. It will be the first such clinic in the world. For more information about the development of peanut immunotherapy and when it will become available, register at www.cambridgeallergytherapy.com.
Photo by DeSegura89