Australian scientists have cured nut allergy in 80% of the children taking part in a probiotic clinical trial. These children’s lives how now been transformed forever, with many more – child or adult – to follow soon. Nut allergy is lifelong and the most common cause of death from food anaphylaxis.
Peanuts – back on the menu
Peanuts are among the most common allergy-causing foods, and chances have it if you’re not allergic to peanuts, you know someone who is. Because their so dangerous for those allergic to them, many food manufacturers are mandated by law to visibly label peanut content even in those foods which you’d think don’t have any business with peanuts. The thing is, peanuts often find their way into things you wouldn’t imagine. Take chili, for instance: lots of producers thicken these with ground peanuts.
Here’s some useful trivia: peanuts aren’t actually a true nut, but a legume in the same family as peas and lentils. However, the proteins found in peanuts are similar in structure to those in tree nuts, so people with allergic to peanuts can also be allergic to tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, pecans, and cashews.
Our immune system is great at warding off infections, but when a person is allergic to nuts, the immune system overreacts to the proteins in these foods and treats them as “invaders”. This causes a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis in which chemicals called histamine are released in the body. Anaphylaxis may begin with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but then quickly worsen, leading someone to have trouble breathing, feel lightheaded, or to pass out. If it is not treated quickly, anaphylaxis can be life threatening. It’s also an allergy that haunts those afflicted all their lives, but a new groundbreaking research might prove to be a life raft.
Researchers gave about 30 allergic children a daily dose of peanut protein together with a probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus) in an increasing amount over an 18-month period. At the end of the trial, 80% of the Aussie kids could eat peanuts without any reaction.
“Many of the children and families believe it has changed their lives, they’re very happy, they feel relieved,” said the lead researcher, Mimi Tang. “These findings provide the first vital step towards developing a cure for peanut allergy and possibly other food allergies.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that their allergies were cured for life. It’s possible of course, but many follow-up studies are mandated to assess whether patients can still tolerate peanuts in the years to come.
“We will be conducting a follow-up study where we ask children to take peanut back out of their diet for eight weeks and test them if they’re tolerant after that,” according to Tang.
If you’re thinking about doing this treatment on your own at home – don’t.
“Some families might be thinking about trialling this at home and we would strongly advise against this. In our trial some children did experience allergic reactions, sometimes serious reactions.
“For the moment this treatment can only be taken under the supervision of doctors as part of a clinical trial.”
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.