At the best of times, peanut allergies are a pain. At the worst, they’re deadly. New research coming out of Australia this week shows signs that there may actually be a cure out there though. That could potentially save lives and change how we look at allergies. Plus, it’s just unfair that there are some people who can’t eat peanut butter. Great, now we want a PB and J.
Researchers at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne conducted a test with 56 children with peanut allergies to see if it is possible to strengthen the immune system to tolerate the legume (peanuts aren’t nuts). Half of the children were given a probiotic along with small doses of peanut protein for 18 months. The other half were given a placebo.
At the end of the year and a half of treatment, 82 percent of the children were tolerant of peanut products. It’s been four years since the first phase of the study in 2013, and when researches tested those children again this year, 70 percent were still tolerant.
The theory behind the experiment is to basically encourage the immune system to tolerate peanuts over time. The probiotic used, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, is one that has been linked to preventing certain allergic symptoms. Pairing it with peanut protein has an effect similar to the flu shot: a small dose of the harmful substance so the body can fight against it (while still being protected by the probiotic).
This is the first breakthrough of its kind. Before these results, there has been little to no indication that allergies have a cure beyond treating symptoms as they occur. This research has prompted a larger study to test if curing a peanut allergy permanently is actually possible.
‘The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanuts like children who don’t have peanut allergy and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanut,’ the lead researcher, Professor Mimi Tang, said, ‘These findings suggest our treatment is effective at inducing long-term tolerance, up to four years after completing treatment, and is safe. It also suggests the exciting possibility that tolerance is a realistic target for treating the food allergy.’
According to Food Allergy Canada, two in 100 children in Canada have a peanut allergy and the allergy is becoming more and more common among the population. It is also the allergy most likely to cause a life threatening anaphylactic reaction. Maybe someday the solution for peanut allergies will be taking a pill for a year and a half instead of life-time avoidance and carrying around an Epipen.