A new research involving oral immuno-therapy to treat peanut allergy shows sign of hope as children with this allergy slowly increased their tolerance to peanuts. In a new study published in The Lancet, researchers worked with 99 children ages seven to 16 years old who all suffer from peanut allergies. For six months, the children underwent immuno-therapy to gradually test their tolerance for peanut consumption using peanut protein powder.
The results revealed that more than half of children with peanut allergies were able to endure the equivalent of about 10 peanuts per day. As a result, the children’s, as well as their families’, quality of life has improved significantly. The children no longer fear accidentally eating foods containing peanuts which may trigger allergic reactions. According to the study authors, reactions to peanuts are the “most common cause of severe and fatal allergic reactions.” These reactions can include: stomachaches, itching in the mouth area, vomiting, nausea and breathing difficulty.
The methodology employed by the U.K.-based researchers was to administer first a “challenge test” in order to gauge each child’s threshold for peanuts thereby determining at which level they exhibit allergic symptoms after eating peanuts. The children were then divided into the active group and the control group.
The children in the active group were given a regimen of regular food containing an increasingly higher dose of peanut protein powder. At the start of the experiment, each child was given a dose of two milligrams (mg) of peanut protein powder per day. Afterwards, the doses were increased to 5 mg., 12.5 mg., 50 mg., 100 mg., 200 mg., 400 mg., and the highest at 800 mg. Initially, the doses were administered in a clinical research facility then afterwards these procedures were implemented in the children’s respective homes.
After the six month study period, out of the 39 children, 24 of them were now able to tolerate 1,400 mg. of peanut protein per day for a success rate of 62 percent. 1,400 mg. is equivalent to consuming roughly 10 peanuts per day which is more than someone with allergies to peanuts is likely to eat by accident. Also, 84 percent of the children were able to endure 800 mg. of peanut protein per day which is roughly equivalent to eating five regular peanuts. As per research, the children’s tolerance to consuming peanut protein is 25.5 times greater compared to the level they had at the start when the sensitization procedures were applied.
On the other hand, none of the 46 children in the control group were able to tolerate any level of peanut ingestion after their ordinary routine of avoiding peanuts in their diets. Complicating the problem is the fact that most of them even experienced a reduction of their tolerance level when ingesting peanut protein over the six-month study period. But when this control group was converted into the active group (they were now given different doses of peanut protein), their tolerance level markedly increased. After six months, 54 percent of them were able to manage with no obvious effects 1,400 mg. of peanut protein powder each day, and 91 percent of them were able to endure a daily dose of 800 mg. peanut protein powder.
To preserve the benefits of increased tolerance for peanuts, the study suggested that children must keep eating peanut protein powder for several more years. Based on previous studies, subjects who stopped the therapy after nine months observed that their allergies returned.
The research director of the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center, Dr. Matthew Greenhawt cautioned in his commentary that accompanied the study that more studies are needed to make the results conclusive for the widespread population. He also mentioned that this peanut allergy therapy is still experimental. This observation was shared by the study authors who mentioned “Because of the significant risks involved, OIT (Oral Immuno-Therapy) should be restricted to specialized centers.” This therapy should not be tried at home, but must only be administered by qualified professionals in a facility that can handle emergencies related to peanut allergies.
The study author and head of the allergy department at Cambridge University Hospitals, Dr. Pamela Ewan said that this study is the first in food immuno-therapy as well as the first in peanut allergy treatment. Dr. Ewan has been studying peanut allergies for the past 20 years.
With these latest findings, this method of peanut allergy treatment shows sign of hope. Although not yet conclusive and applicable to a wider sample of subjects it nonetheless helped children overcome their allergies to peanuts and enabled them and their families to live more normal and healthy lives.
By Roberto I. Belda