Food News

Can This Pill Really Cure Peanut Allergies?

August 24, 2017

Peanut allergies are so common in the United States that peanut restrictions in workplaces or schools have almost come to be expected. And for good reason: Scientists have watched the prevalence of peanut allergies grow steadily, tripling in the US from .4 percent of households surveyed in 1997 to 1.4 percent in 2008. And though some doctors encourage parents to tackle the issue head on through early exposure, it’s hard to know how many are actually willing to do so. Meanwhile, like all true food allergies, a peanut allergy can be deadly, triggering anaphylaxis (which may even present without identifiable skin symptoms like hives).

But now, it appears that scientists have found a way to turn the tide. In a small but very promising study out of Australia, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, researchers were able to confirm the success of oral immunotherapy against peanuts, resulting in a lasting peanut tolerance. The study served as a follow-up to an earlier, placebo-controlled experiment against peanut allergies using a combination of peanuts and probiotics as treatment. Four years later, 48 out of 56 eligible participants from the original immunization trial—half from the peanut-treated group and half from the placebo treated group— were tested again for their peanut tolerance.

In the follow-up study, 20 out of the 24 of the peanut-treated participants reported that they hadn’t experienced an allergic reaction since the original trial four years ago, with 16 out of 24 still actually eating peanuts. In the placebo-treated group, only one participant reported that they had continued eating peanuts.

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“Our findings show that combined probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy provides long-lasting clinical benefit compared with placebo,” the authors wrote, “with two-thirds of treated participants symptom free after peanut ingestion 4 years after completing treatment.”

Given that recent research has indicated that it’s not just young children who can develop new allergies, these findings have the potential to drive a number of new and larger immunization trials, which is good news for sufferers of peanut allergies everywhere. If we're lucky, a world in which peanut butter is accessible to all is in our future.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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  • TG
  • Samantha Vimes
    Samantha Vimes
Karen Lo

Written by: Karen Lo

lunch lady


. August 26, 2017
I'm sorry, how is the image of a lobster forced to bend in half and do a headstand on it's eyes related to this story unless the story is about forcing another creature to contort for the sake of a photograph and for the photographer. The image may have taken be snapped quickly, but the almost brutality of the pose lasts as long as this image persists.
TG August 24, 2017
Thank you for sharing this information. Just a heads-up re. your last paragraph and "a world in which peanut butter is accessible to all": that's not quite it. For my family, a cure for peanut allergy doesn't just mean having peanuts, but ALL THE OTHER STUFF! :-) My kiddo can't eat most candies or treats, brands of ice cream, bakery foods, birthday cakes, dim sum, etc. b/c of risk of cross-contamination. So, to him, a cure would mean not having to worry ALL THE TIME.
(Just a thought! Love your articles!)
Samantha V. August 24, 2017
Very good point. There are so many foods labelled with things like, "Made on machinery that also processes [allergen]"
TG August 26, 2017
Well, and those are the good ones -- companies are not required by law to include cross-contamination on their labeling, and most companies do not do it. So most of the time, we have to call the companies directly before we eat any grocery-store bought foods. Smaller productions, (like, for instance, the pasta company that sells at our local farmers market,) may actually rent industrial kitchen space, and have no idea about what else has passed though that kitchen -- we can't eat that stuff. The 2 times my kiddo has had reactions were from foods that didn't list nuts on ingredients but had cross-contamination in production -- he could have died, and a simple law saying this has to be stated could have prevented these incidents. Almost every kiddo I know with food allergies has a diagnosis of Clinical Anxiety -- the fear of making a mistake when you choose a food then creeps into other parts of their lives, and they become paranoid about making ANY mistakes -- not just food, but in math, in choosing essay choices, in which movie to see, etc. These people have to be Constantly Vigilant and it's exhausting.
(Probably TMI, but there you have it....)