An End To Food Allergies? Well, Let's Start With Peanut Allergies
Peanut allergies are the most common cause of food related death. Four percent of children are allergic to peanuts and only 20 percent of those children ever outgrow the allergy. Symptoms of peanut allergy can include rashes, itchy skin, sneezing, teary eyes, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and swelling. But severe symptoms may include anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly if not treated immediately. You don't mess with food allergies.
The thing about peanuts is that traces of them can be found in nearly every processed food, especially if the processing plant, bakery, candy store, etc. produces other products that contain peanuts. So the peanut-allergic have to be especially cautious, always on the lookout for special food notices that no peanuts are processed in the facilities.
But a British doctor, Andrew Clark, at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, has been working on a program to help rid children of peanut allergies. His program, funded by Great Britain's National Health Service, used very small doses of peanut flour mixed with yogurt to slowly desensitize allergic children to the peanut.
Dr. Clark conducted a two-year study with 23 children, gradually increasing their doses of peanut flour every day. Now, the children can eat 5 or more peanuts a day without experiencing allergic reactions. For parents, this achievement was transformational: they no longer have to watch absolutely everything that their children eat from Chinese food to curries to chocolates, and other snacks and treat.
Previous desensitization studies were unsuccessful, perhaps because of the method and/or the peanut product used. Either peanut extract or oil was injected into the blood stream rather than going through the digestive system.
In March, Dr. Clark will head a larger study with at least 104 children that have already been recruited. It will be a 3-year study, the largest trial of its kind, "and it should give us a definitive idea of whether it works and whether it's safe," Dr. Clark said in his address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, meeting this weekend in San Diego, CA.
He offered even further hope that his study results would portend "the beginning of the end for all food allergies."