Peanut Allergies: New Strategies For Children

peanutsAl Kraft, Nutrition 150, Summer 2009

Over the past 20 years, there has been a significant increase in cases of peanut allergies in children in Western countries. The U.S. estimates that the rate of children with peanut allergies was around .4 percent in 1997 and then climbed to .8 percent in 2002. (The Journal and Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 123, Issue 2) In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised nursing mothers to avoid peanut intake during pregnancy, and advised mothers to avoid peanut exposure to children until the age of three. Allergic reactions to peanuts in young children can be very dangerous, so avoiding peanuts at a young age seemed like the proper strategy. There are however, more recent studies to suggest that early exposure to peanuts may decrease the chances that children develop peanut allergies.

In January of this year, a study from the Gideon Lack’s group looked at cases of peanut allergies among Jewish children in the United Kingdom and Israel. It was found that the Israeli children, who often consumed peanut substances as infants, had a low .04 percent rate of the allergy. At the same time, the rate in the United Kingdom was 1.85 percent among children who had not consumed peanut substances as infants. It is interesting to point out that though genetics were discounted as a varying factor, peanut preparation may have played a role in the findings. In Israel, peanuts found in snack products are often boiled before consumption. In the U.S. and the U.K. most peanuts are dry-roasted which might increase a type of binding to peanut protein. It is suspected that this process might increase allergy cases.

In another recent study, Dr. Wesley Burks, an allergy specialist from Duke University, found that toddlers
with severe peanut allergies could build up tolerance after being given very small doses of a peanut substance. The children were started with very small amounts of peanut powder (much smaller than the amounts that could be controlled for outside of a laboratory) and then gradually given larger amounts. Five of the nine children that were studied were able to eventually tolerate 15 peanuts a day. This is an important finding, since many children grow out of most food allergies, but only one in five grow out of peanut allergies.

This new strategy in treatment is referred to as oral immunotherapy and is currently being used in many areas of food allergy studies in young children. Dr. Burke believes that we are working toward a proven immunotherapy that will be implemented within the next five years. He sites the advances of his study along with a large number of other studies on peanut allergies that are helping in this goal. Another possible solution Dr. Burke sited was the genetically modified allergen-free peanut.

Though oral immunotherapy seems very promising, people need to know that more research is needed in the study and implementation of this therapy. Peanut allergies are very dangerous and this should not be tried at home outside the lab. The very small doses can only be effectively administered in a lab setting at this time.

References:
Early peanut consumption: Postpone or promote? The Journal and Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 123, Issue 2

Household peanut consumption as a risk factor for development of peanut allergy.
The Journal and Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2009

Clinical efficacy and immune regulation with peanut oral immunotherapy. www.pubmed.gov

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