It sounds pretty nutty feeding kids the very thing that endangers them, but scientists have evidence that this approach works wonders when it comes to peanuts.
A pilot study just released at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Washington reports some children who participated appear allergy-free because of eating tiny amounts of the nuts while being monitored.
According to the New York Times, doctors at Duke University Medical Center and Arkansas Children’s Hospital did the study over several years, gradually exposing the children in the study to the nuts until their bodies were able to tolerate the allergen.
The dosage for the new treatment starts as small as one-thousandth of a peanut and eventually increases to about 15 peanuts a day. Immune-system tests reveal no signs of the remaining allergy in five kids. Others who participated can withstand amounts that would have left them with wheezing or more severe reactions.
“We’re optimistic that they have lost their peanut allergy,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Wesley Burks, Duke’s allergy chief. “We’ve not seen this before medically. We’ll have to see what happens to them.”
Research is ongoing to confirm the results, but the findings could herald a major triumph for a life threatening allergy that afflicts 1.8 million people in the United States. According to reports, peanut allergies account for the majority of the 30,000 emergency-room visits each year. Nearly half of the 150 deaths attributed to food allergies each year in the United States are caused by peanut allergies, according to Duke University.
An estimated 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including about 2.2 million children. About 3.3 million people are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. While drugs can be used to treat an allergic reaction, there are no approved treatments for food allergies. It’s not like hay fever or dust mites where you can get a scratch test and a shot to treat the itching and asthma.
Peanut allergies can be quite scary for parents because peanuts and peanut oil are so often hidden ingredients in food children are exposed to, especially processed foods from factories: things like candy, cookies, ice cream and chocolate. According to a report on hidden allergens in CNN, you can find peanuts in the following unlikely sources:
Hidden sources of peanuts:
- Artificial nuts. Some artificial nuts are peanut-based with flavoring added to make them taste like other nuts, such as walnuts or pecans.
- Arachis oil. This is another name for peanut oil.
- Chocolate candies. Many chocolate candies are produced on equipment also used for processing peanuts or peanut-containing foods. Cross-contact is common.
- Cultural foods. Many African, Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese dishes often contain peanuts or are exposed to peanuts during restaurant preparation.
- Specialty baked goods and ice cream. Foods sold in bakeries and ice-cream shops often come in contact with peanuts.
- Sunflower seeds. Many brands of sunflower seeds are manufactured on equipment also used to produce peanuts.
- Nut butters. Many nut butters, such as cashew nut butter, are processed on the same equipment used to make peanut butter.
- Saliva. Allergy-causing proteins from peanuts and other food allergens can be passed through the saliva by kissing or sharing utensils, straws or cups with someone who has recently eaten peanuts – even after just brushing teeth or chewing gum.
If it pans out, the new study will bring help to parents since it allows them to address the allergies in the early stages of childhood, making it unlikely that the innocent birthday party or school bake sale will turn into a trip to the hospital.