Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: New Treatments for Food Allergies?

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Treatments for Food Allergies?

This is an interesting new development in responding to food allergies, which never particularly had any treatment, except for treating symptoms once an allergy flares up. I suffer from peanut allergies, and although I don't have as extreme a condition as some I've heard of (up to 75 people die from peanuts each year in the United States), I get a noticeable allergic reaction from small amounts of peanuts (or peanut butter). That reaction is unpleasant enough that I'll avoid anything with peanuts or the possibility of peanuts.

Although they don't seem like they can do anything for me, findings from a couple of studies were presented on Sunday showing that exposing children to small amounts of peanuts daily can build a tolerance in them.

The new treatment uses doses of peanuts that start as small as one-thousandth of a peanut and eventually increase to about 15 peanuts a day. In a pilot study at Duke University and Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, 33 children with documented peanut allergy have received the daily therapy, which is given as a powder sprinkled on food. Most of the children are tolerating the therapy without developing allergic reactions, and five stopped the treatment after two and a half years because they could now tolerate peanuts in their regular diet. But four children dropped out because they could not tolerate the treatment.

In a related study of just 18 children, the researchers gave the treatment to 12 children and a placebo powder to 6. After 10 months, the children were given a medically supervised test exposing them to peanuts. In the placebo group, the children developed symptoms after ingesting the equivalent of one and a half peanuts. In the treatment group, the children tolerated 15 peanuts without symptoms.

It's only a start, and more research needs to be done before we'll know how certain these results are, but it's certainly hopeful for the children involved. At this point in my life, though, I suspect that it's too late to start taking minute amounts of peanuts. I'll continue having to do without the pleasures of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


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