New therapy for peanut allergies shows promise

The food service industry is always aware of the ingredients in any prepared meal to minimize the risk of exposing customers to food allergens, but could a little exposure to peanuts lessen a severe reaction in those who live with allergies? While this has been a long-debated question, it may soon be answered thanks to studies being conducted by Canadian and U.S. doctors. The ultimate result? Train a child’s immune system to develop a higher tolerance for peanuts.

Researchers at McMaster University are working on a therapy called oral immunotherapy which, if successful, may lessen the effects of peanut allergies in children. In the study, children with peanut allergies are given a very small amount of peanut powder in a pudding in the hopes of desensitizing them against the reaction. Though the study results have not yet been published, a similar study in the U.S. points to success in reducing the allergic response in many who have tried it.

In the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the U.S. study team tested the therapy on 40 people under the age of 37. In half of the group, a tiny amount of a peanut powder liquid was placed under their tongues every day; the other half received a placebo.

After 44 weeks, 14 of the 20 participants who were given the peanut powder were able to consume at least 10 times more peanut powder than they could at the beginning of the study. Some minor side effects were developed, but Dr. Susan Waserman, research lead at McMaster, says the therapy could be life-changing for those with peanut allergies.

“I think the demand is potentially huge. It is a very prevalent problem that’s increasing in scope, and up until now we have nothing beyond avoiding this particular food,” she says.

Overall, the goal of the therapy is not to cure a peanut allergy, but to lessen its severity if a sufferer accidently consumes a small amount of a peanut product. Should this be successful, this would open up more restaurant and retail options for peanut allergy suffers. It’s an alternative way to treat peanut allergies instead of people living in fear of peanuts for their entire lives. Doctors expect results from several studies early next year.

Also of interest is an article by Dr. Andrew Craig of the American Peanut Council. His article, Using peanuts to reduce sensitivity to peanuts: latest immunotherapy talks about the same study mentioned above and points towards the potential promising outcomes of immunotherapy.