A peanut allergy ‘cure’ may be on its way. Here’s how it works
Peanut allergies can be pretty severe, making life complicated for kids and their families. But what if scientists found a way to “cure” the allergy?
It may be a reality in the near future: Australian scientists say they’ve uncovered a potential cure for peanut allergies, keeping the allergy away in some patients for a four-year period.
Scientists out of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute say their immunotherapy, combining a common probiotic with peanut protein, worked at staving off peanut allergies in kids.
“It was able to induce a form of tolerance allowing these children to incorporate peanuts back into their diets,” Dr. Mimi Tang, the study’s lead researcher, told the prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet, in a podcast about the findings.
“There are clear signs it can suppress the allergic reaction,” she explained.
Peanut allergies are ubiquitous in Canada – one of the most common food allergies in both kids and adults. In Canada, about seven per cent of people have some kind of food allergy.
But peanut allergies are tricky for a handful of reasons, Tang said. For starters, they’re typically a lifelong allergy, peanuts are a common food ingredient, even trace amounts are enough to spark a reaction, and the repercussions can be severe. Anaphylactic shock isn’t to be taken lightly – people have died from their peanut allergies.
Kids end up tied to a “lifelong vigilance” to avoiding peanuts, Tang said. While the prevalence of allergies across the board is creeping up, it’s most pronounced when it comes to peanuts — compared to, say, eggs or milk.
Tang has been working on a long-term cure for years. In 2015, she published her initial results: she worked with about 62 kids in a trial.
Tang’s team fed them a very common probiotic found in yogurt – lactobacillus rhamnosus – along with peanut protein every day for 18 months. As the days progressed, the kids took on more peanut protein.
The scientists turned to probiotics to help the gut accept the peanuts.
Turns out, the therapy worked: 82 per cent of the kids receiving the therapy reduced their allergic reactions to peanuts.
By the end of the trial, they were eating about two grams of peanut protein – that’s about seven to 10 peanuts, Tang said.
She wanted to know how long-lasting the effects were. Years later, the researchers recruited the kids again for a follow-up. That’s how they learned that 67 per cent of those who got the therapy were still eating peanuts.
While the study sample is small, the results are incredibly encouraging, the researchers say. They’re hoping to conduct more testing, and reports suggest that they’re even aiming for a product ready for the marketplace within five years.
In the meantime, research on nut allergies has been unfolding: over the past few years, scientists warned that recommendations that call for no peanuts until kids are about three years old are outdated.
Pediatricians are even doling out new advice to expose babies to peanuts, in small doses, to lessen allergy risks.