Food allergies. We've talked about them, you've talked about them, and the scientific community has certainly been studying them. For the amount of people in world that are affected by food allergies - including 6 million children - it's no surprise that allergies reach front page news each week. And recently there's been even more buzz about peanut allergies in particular. Why? Because there could in fact be a cure.
In a recent Australian study, researchers say they may have found a treatment for the highly prevalent food allergy. As a result, the food allergy community has been speculating about what these results mean, and if serious allergic reactions could eventually be a tragedy of the past.
The study took over 60 children between the ages of 1 and 10 and divided them into two groups. One group of children received treatment, while the other group remained as the control. The treatment that the first group received was a combination of a daily probiotic ("good bacteria") dose, along with a small amount of peanut protein. Researchers slowly increased the amount of peanut protein the first group received over the course of 18 months. By the end, this group was eating two grams of peanuts each day.
Then, the same group that was eating peanut protein (and receiveing a probiotic) stopped eating peanuts after the conclusion of the 18 month period. At least two weeks later, after a break from eating peanuts, these children ate peanuts again under the supervision of medical staff.
The result was indeed positive. Over 80% of the children who received the probiotic and peanut protein treatment were able to tolerate peanut two weeks after the conclusion of their treatment. As noted by a press release, this success rate is "20 times higher than the natural rate of resolution for peanut allergy."
Reactions to the study
The food allergy community is definitely excited about the results of this Australian study. It provides hope in a time when food allergies, and their severity, are increasing.
Lead researcher Mimi Tang said, “Many of the children and families believe it has changed their lives, they’re very happy, they feel relieved. These findings provide the first vital step towards developing a cure for peanut allergy and possibly other food allergies.” The next step is to follow-up and see if the children can still tolerate peanuts months and years after the conclusion of this unique study.
More positive remarks came from Dr. David Stukus, chair of the Kids With Food Allergies Medical Advisory Team. Dr. Stukus stated, "This is an exciting study that offers a new twist on a potential treatment for food allergy."
Implications for the future
Although this is an exciting study, the most important factor to keep in mind is that it is a small, controlled study. Researchers know that further studies are needed to understand the risks, benefits, and long-term success of this type of treatment. Most importantly, researchers stress that this treatment should not be attempted at home since some children did experience allergic reactions.
So while researchers continue to study the effects and long-term implications, the general public is still left without a cure for peanut allergy - for now, at least. That means staying prepared for allergic reactions is, and will continue to be, a daily responsibility for those affected by peanut allergy - or any other food allergy for that matter.
Children and students must still stay alert for foods that may trigger a severe allergic reaction, while parents must continue to face the daily challenges of keeping a child with multiple food allergies safe. Away from home, schools must continue to stay vigilant in preparing for and responding to mild and severe allergic reactions with the help of the school nurse and an anaphylaxis action plan where applicable.
By staying educated and aware, we can continue to provide safer environments for those affected by food allergies until a cure is found.