Scientists find possible treatment for kids’ peanut allergies

BY Sarah Sheffer  January 31, 2014 at 2:33 PM EST

Scientists in Cambridge may have made a breakthrough in combating peanut allergies, an affliction that affects a growing segment of American youth.

An experimental treatment that exposed children with the allergies to a small amount of peanut flour has helped more than 80 percent of children tolerate the allergen.

Scientists at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge mixed increasing doses of peanut flour in food for 99 children with allergies to the popular nut. By the end of the trial, well over half of the children could consume a handful of peanuts daily without experiencing any dangerous reaction.

The goal of the treatment was the help children build small, incremental tolerance to the nut.

“Before treatment children and their parents would check every food label and avoiding eating out in restaurants. Now most of the patients in the trial can safely eat at least five whole peanuts. The families involved in this study say that it has changed their lives dramatically,” said Dr. Andrew Clark, who co-led the research team.

Food allergies can range from mild to life-threatening and occur when the immune system negatively responds to certain foods, mistaking it for a harmful substance entering the body.

Food allergies are a growing concern in the U.S. and elsewhere in the developed world. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), four to six percent of children in the United States are affected by food allergies, and about 0.6 percent of the American population are allergic to peanuts.

Food allergy prevalence has increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, but researchers aren’t sure why the numbers are on the rise. Some theorize that allergies develop when children are not exposed to certain food at an early age. Others say that high levels of sanitation prevent children’s immune systems from combating common allergens.

After their success, the researchers plan to test the therapy on a larger population.

Though results were positive, parents should not try this treatment at home.