For peanut allergies alone, an Australian study reported the number of cases tripled between 1971 and 2008.
There is a lot of misunderstanding between what constitutes an allergy and intolerance. The first is a serious immune reaction from the body to a specific protein in food, causing severe, sometimes even fatal, consequences. In contrast, intolerance is a relatively mild digestive condition, which affects the body’s ability to digest a specific type of food, resulting in symptoms such as indigestion, bloating and tiredness after meals.
There is a wide range of allergies, from insect stings, (bees, wasps, fire ants) to latex products, medications (aspirin, penicillin, anti-inflammatory drugs), and food items, such as shellfish, walnut, peanut or eggs.
Discovering one has a food allergy can have traumatic consequences. The simple act of eating a meal is suddenly fraught with danger.
While in many cases the immune reaction only causes mild symptoms like itchy skin, nausea or a runny nose, in the most severe cases the body can experience a life-threatening immune reaction to the allergen. An anaphylaxis episode causes serious breathing difficulties, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, fainting and dizziness. Unless treated immediately with an epinephrine (adrenalin) injection, the consequences can be fatal.
Unfortunately, diagnosing an allergy is not an easy task. Home allergy tests are not only unreliable but also potentially dangerous since they often give the wrong diagnosis.This has caused many sufferers to wrongly believe they have an allergy.
Peanut allergies are unfortunately more common in babies and young children.
One can understand many parents’ concern, since even a trace of peanut in a child’s food can potentially cause death.
According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy ASCIA), “Diagnosing a peanut allergy can be complicated. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and a single individual may not always experience the same symptoms during every reaction.”
A peanut allergy is difficult to diagnose through skin or blood tests, so it is important to get your local GP to refer you to an allergist who will encourage you to keep a food diary to record any reactions. If this record doesn’t produce any convincing evidence you might have to ingest, under supervised medical conditions, minute traces of peanut base products in increasing doses to monitor if any reaction occurs.
Peanut allergies affect 100,000 children in the UK, and over 1.5 million people in the USA, so the market for a potential cure would obviously be very lucrative.
A recent British medical trial which consisted of prescribing minute amounts of a pharmaceutical grade peanut flour to patients to gradually increase their level of tolerance to the allergen has brought some very promising results.The children involved in the program were given treatment in three stages, starting from a very low dose, and gradually increasing their intake every two weeks for a minimum of 20 weeks. The home treatment continued for a total duration of 12 months. Discussing the trial Professor Tilles said:
“Most of the children on the trial began with a reaction to anything more than 10mg peanut protein, (a peanut contains between 160 to 300mg). By the end of the trial, the median amount tolerated was 1000mg, or about four peanuts, which is an enormous improvement.”
A similar clinical trial conducted in Australia by Dr Mimi Tang at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute concluded with two thirds of children tested being cured of their allergy.
Four years later, the majority of the children who gained initial tolerance were still eating peanuts as part of their normal diet, and 70% passed a further challenge test to confirm long-term tolerance.
There has been some controversy over the potential prohibitive cost of the treatments since the pharmaceutical grade peanut flour being used in the medical trials is very similar to the commercial product which is available very cheaply.
Dr Michael Perkin from St George’s University of London, commented that the treatment was “not some sort of fancy wonder drug that’s been created with a monoclonal antibody in some clever laboratory, but a bag of peanut flour shoved it inside a capsule.”
Obviously, there are grave dangers in trying to desensitise a child at home using a home product since the initial prescribed dosage has to be extremely precise to avoid any grave consequences. However, one potential cost saving measure would be to have the children undertake the first critical six months of a licensed treatment as prescribed, and then allow their parents to continue the treatment at home with ordinary peanut flour. Unfortunately, it seems a little unrealistic. Apart from some potential safety issues, the drug companies have already made it clear that working for peanuts is not an option.
Read Olivier’s introductory article on allergies: http://novaholisticjournal.com/stories/food-allergy-or-intolerance
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com