Is there a Potential Cure for Peanut Allergies?
Food allergies are on the rise in the U.S., having increased by approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most common fatal food allergy reactions is caused by peanuts. This allergy affects one in 50 children. Exposure to peanuts (even trace amounts) can put a child into anaphylactic shock, or even cause death. Due to the allergy’s severity, parents of children with nut allergies sometimes have to take extreme measures to ensure that their children are not exposed at all to nuts or anything that has come in contact with them.
But relief may be on the way. The findings of a study conducted at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, released in The Lancet in late January 2014, offer hope. Conducted in “tolerance therapy” over a period of five years in response to the half a million people in the United Kingdom who suffer from this allergy, the study consisted of 99 children ages 7-16. The patients participated in a therapy to help them build up tolerance over a short time period.
A very small amount of peanut protein was introduced daily, with the amount being slowly increased over time. The goal was to get the patients to be able to eat about five nuts with no allergic reaction. The treatment succeeded in 84 percent of the children who participated in the study, and the quality of life for these families increased significantly.
“Peanut allergy is a particularly frightening food allergy, causing constant anxiety of a reaction from peanut traces,” says Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK. “This is a major step forward in the global quest to manage it.”
This is not the first study in this line of research. In 2009, researchers at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital concluded that small doses of peanut protein over time could result in tolerance among children with peanut allergies. This was followed in 2011 by a study from Duke University Medical Center, which found that after one year of treatment, 11 children who had a peanut allergy could tolerate up to six peanuts.
Still, Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn, associate professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, warns parents that this is not an end-all cure. In order to maintain tolerance, those who are treated in this manner must continue eating peanuts daily.
Immunotherapy is part of the planned treatments in a new peanut allergy clinic opening at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. More research is needed on the topic, but these studies provide encouraging outcomes for those who suffer from peanut allergies.
Alexa Bigwarfe is the mother of three. She has taken a special interest in child, maternal, and newborn health and writes regularly on these topics.