Dr Pamela Ewan, of Cambridge University Hospitals, said the results of a new study to boost children’s tolerance of peanut ingredients offered “huge benefits and was a great success”.
The research – published in The Lancet – suggested, after six months of treatment, up to 84% of allergic children could eat the equivalent of five peanuts a day, Ewan told BBC Breakfast TV.
Researchers at Addenbrookes Hospital arranged for 85 children to eat peanut protein every day, in progressively larger amounts. The ingredient was administered as a peanut protein powder – beginning with a dose equal to about one 70th of a peanut.
Every two weeks the children were given a slightly higher dose while in hospital – to minimise the risk of adverse reaction. The majority of children who could tolerate the higher dose then continued the treatment at home.
“What is really astonishing is that we know how allergic they were to begin with. At the end, we can test them with five peanuts or 10 peanuts and they can tolerate that,” said Ewan.
Worldwide, peanut allergy is an increasing problem and the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions to food. The condition is thought to affect between 0.5%–1.4% of children in developed countries.
But the researchers have warned the therapy is not ready for widespread application. “It is not something to try yourself,” said Ewan. “It has to done in hospitals under clinically controlled conditions.”
At present, there is no treatment to prevent peanut allergy, leaving those vulnerable to the condition to avoid peanut ingredients completely.
Catherine Tool – whose daughter used to suffer from an allergic reaction to peanuts – told the programme the treatment was having a big impact on her family. “It's life transforming in the worry that it has removed from our lives. Daughter Elizabeth, who hates peanuts, said: “I am really happy that I am able to eat peanuts and that there's a trial to stop me being allergic to them.”
Ewan confirmed peanut allergy can have a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives, making many “afraid all the time”. But the new treatment promised to end the worry. “Once they have been treated, it frees them up from anxiety,” she said.“They don't need to check ingredients and it makes a huge difference to their lives. Basically, it makes them safe.”
More information about the report is available here.
Meanwhile, food allergen labelling is one of the topics covered by the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR), due to be enforced on December 14 2014. To help food and drink manufacturers prepare for the changes, the Food Manufacture Group will be staging a webinar on the topic at 11am GMT on Thursday February 20.
Reserve your free place at one-hour webinar – featuring Premier Foods, Campden BRI, the Trading Standards Institute and law firm DWF – here.