There’s a very strict “no-nut” rule at the preschool my daughter goes to. I get it and respect it because if she was allergic to a certain food, I wouldn’t want anyone around her to be eating it either. Food allergies are on the rise around the world, the most common of all, being to peanuts. The Netflix “Rotten” documentary refers to peanuts as having transformed from the classic American snack to an extremely high-risk food. One in 13 American children have a food allergy, and a quarter of them are to peanuts. People with peanut allergies generally carry an Epipen around with them wherever they go. I’m not allergic, but if you or somebody you love is, I understand how you must constantly worry about when, or if, you’ll ever have to use it.
What if I told you there might soon be a ‘cure’ for severe peanut allergies?
Just last week, a California-based research company announced it’s had a major breakthrough in preventing allergic reactions to peanuts. It’s very similar to the idea I talked about in one of my recent blog posts: experts think people may be able to better tolerate the food they’re allergic to if they’re introduced to it in very small doses. Over time the amount is increased until the person can eat the foods without worrying about sparking a reaction. That’s exactly what Aimmune Therapeutics has done with peanuts. Doctors say children were better able to tolerate nuts by ingesting daily capsules of peanut flour.
The study involved about 500 kids with severe peanut allergies ranging in age from four to 17. A Global News story reports they were given either capsules of peanut flour or a dummy powder in gradually increasing amounts for six months, then by continuing on that level for another six months. The results were pretty impressive, with 67 percent of the kids who had the treatment being able to tolerate two peanuts by the end of the study. The results were the same for only four percent of the kids who were given the dummy powder.
Obviously, the children involved in the study were under the very close watch of doctors and medical researchers. Still, the Global report says 20 percent of the kids getting the peanut powder dropped out of the study, 12 percent due to reactions. As a parent, I get that. I don’t know that I would be brave enough to put my child’s life at risk in search of a ‘cure’ for the allergy in question. I would almost rather live in fear of peanuts. Still, I’m grateful to those who did participate, because it could mean amazing things for millions of people who suffer from this common allergy. There’s a theory that children can outgrow their allergy, but experts say only about one in five do.
The results still have to be reviewed by independent experts, and by the end of this year, the research company is going to file for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. In the meantime, the research continues. Peanuts are the leading cause of death from food-induced allergic reactions in the United States. Just imagine a world where we wouldn’t have to be scared of the things we or the people around us eat.
I’ll always remember a story that went national in Canada a couple of years ago about a peanut-laced kiss. 20-year-old Myriam Ducre-Lemay kissed her new boyfriend goodnight, not knowing that he had eaten peanuts a few hours earlier. She died of a severe allergic reaction that night. He didn’t know about her allergy, and she wasn’t carrying an EpiPen. The Montreal Children’s hospital told CTV News that traces of allergens can actually stay in your saliva for up to four hours after you’ve eaten the food. And that’s exactly what happened in this case. I couldn’t help but think about her again and wonder if this new possible treatment could have helped her. Maybe it wouldn’t have cured her allergy, but at the very least, maybe it would have allowed her to safely kiss her boyfriend goodnight.