A pilot study conducted in the United States on a dozen children suggests it may be possible to become more “tolerant” to foods that cause severe allergic reactions. CAUTION: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!
Food allergies are on the rise everywhere in the world. Minute quantities of peanuts can actually kill an allergic person in a matter of minutes if he or she does not carry their epinephrine injection with them or if they do not immediately make it to a hospital. Reactions can be so severe and unpredictable that most schools have now banned foods that contain peanuts in their cafeterias and forbid children from bringing snacks that contain this potentially dangerous ingredient. Some large companies who produce sweets and cookies now certify that specific products they manufacture are entirely peanut-free.
For now however, the only way for people who have food allergies to avoid having serious reactions remains complete abstinence from the foods that provoke them. Happily, there might be a light at the end of this dark tunnel, as this situation may very well change in the near future. Having obtained encouraging results in a dozen children with egg and peanut allergies, American researchers are hoping to pursue their immunotherapy study on a much larger scale.
The principle is similar to the immunotherapy protocols used to attenuate allergic reactions to tree and plant pollens. In the case of these particular allergens, weak quantities of pollens are actually injected directly under the skin. If the patient does not exhibit serious allergy symptoms, the dose is gradually increased over a few months until the normal dose tolerated by a non-allergic person is attained. Immunotherapy is impossible to undertake with food allergies as these trigger very violent and dangerous allergic reactions. However, if we rely on the results from this American study, administering extremely weak doses by mouth seems a feasible feat.
The young subjects began by spending a day in the hospital where they were administered miniscule doses of egg powder or of defatted peanut flour. They started with a dose of eggs 1,000 times weaker or of peanuts 3,000 weaker than those encountered in regular foods. The researchers then gradually increased the dosage up to the point where the children either broke out in hives or experienced other allergic reactions. After being treated for their allergic reactions, the children would return home, instructed to take a daily dose slightly inferior to the one that had triggered reactions. The dose was further increased every two weeks, until the equivalent of one tenth of an egg or one peanut was attained. The children who participated in the study are still taking this maintenance dose on a daily basis.
Two years into the study, four of the seven children allergic to eggs could eat two scrambled eggs without experiencing any problems, while the other two could eat as many before exhibiting any symptoms. In the group of children allergic to peanuts, six are now able to tolerate ingesting fifteen peanuts without complications, while others can tolerate a bit less, approximately seven peanuts.
You must understand that the objective of this study is not to enable children to eat the foods they are allergic to, but rather to make accidental ingestions safer for them.
However, it is unclear at this time if the protection afforded by this immunotherapy treatment actually lasts when daily maintenance doses are abandoned. This is why the researchers want to enlarge their study to test a greater number of children. They also would like to push the children’s tolerance limits by administering elevated maintenance doses. At this point, this line of research seems equally promising. Blood analyses show a decrease in antibodies directed toward egg or peanut proteins in the blood of the children participating in the study. This decrease proves their immune systems are adapting and becoming more tolerant to these particular allergens.
The work undertaken by the American researchers may one day allow allergic people to treat their allergies. However, it is primordial you know that this type of treatment can have tragic repercussions and requires very stringent medical follow-ups. It remains an extremely dangerous experiment.
You should NEVER attempt any type of immunotherapy on your children who have food allergies or any other types of allergies. Immunotherapy must be conducted by a health professional.
Always remember: extreme vigilance is still the only policy!