Science does not yet know what causes food allergies, nor is there a proven cure. But advances are being made every day on both fronts, and there’s hope that food allergies may be a thing of the past in our lifetimes. Currently, it’s estimated that approximately 20 percent of peanut-allergic children will outgrow their allergy13.
Here are a few of the current research studies that are in progress:
The long-awaited results of the Learning Early About Peanuts (LEAP) study led by Dr. Gideon Lack of Kings College in London were released in February.
The study of infants at high risk for developing peanut allergy found that peanut consumption was associated with an 86 percent reduction in peanut allergy at five years of age. For children that had a positive skin test to peanuts and included peanuts in their diet, there was a 70 percent reduction in peanut allergy.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and included 530 infants between 4-11 months with severe eczema, egg allergy or both. The participants were separated into two groups based on a positive or negative reaction to a skin prick test for peanut allergy. Within those groups, some children avoided peanuts in their diets and others included peanuts in their diets.
The National Peanut Board provided funding to support the research.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) December 2013, researcher A. Lindsay Frazier, MD, ScM and colleagues sought to examine the association between consumption of peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy and the risk of peanut and/or tree nut allergy in the children.
The participants in the study (10,907 children born between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994) were born to women who previously reported their diet during, or shortly before or after, their pregnancy as part of this study. In 2006, each participant (8,513 remaining in the study) reported any physician-diagnosed food allergies, after which a team of physicians independently reviewed each of the reports.
While more research is needed on the correlation between maternal perinatal consumption of peanuts, breastfeeding, and the development of peanut allergy, this study found a lower risk of peanut allergy among the children whose mothers ate peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Research is currently underway to determine a threshold level for peanut allergy. A threshold level would determine the smallest amount of peanut protein that causes an allergic reaction in five percent of people with a peanut allergy. Determining a threshold level would allow manufacturers to accurately test for peanut in products. An initial study was published in 2009 on peanut threshold levels, but further research is needed to warrant any changes to the current system.
Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have developed a Chinese herbal medicine (FAHF-2) that may prevent life-threatening reactions to food allergies. The results of the phase 1 clinical trial, published in July 2010, suggest the formula is safe and well-tolerated by people with food allergies. Phase 2 of the study is currently underway. Get more information on alternative treatments.
The London-based EAT (Enquiring about Tolerance) Study is currently testing the hypothesis that the introduction of six allergenic foods into the diet of infants from three months old, alongside continued breastfeeding, results in a reduced prevalence of food allergies by three years old. Babies participating in the study are randomly placed into one of two groups. One group will introduce six allergenic foods starting when the child is three months old, along with continued breastfeeding. The second group will follow current UK government weaning advice (i.e., exclusively breastfeeding the child until he or she is six months old). Both groups of children will be evaluated at age three to determine the effects of early diet in reducing the prevalence of food allergy.
You can find the guidelines for what’s recommended in the United States at the following sites:
*The National Peanut Board is not responsible for information presented on outside websites.
Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is one of the most promising research fields in providing aid to those with peanut allergy. Oral immunotherapy seeks to desensitize the patient to their allergen by providing small, daily doses of the allergen. In theory, the body will eventually recognize the daily dose of allergen as no longer foreign.
Preliminary studies are also looking into the immunotherapy of peanut allergy through a skin patch application. One particular study, “Safety of Epicutaneous Immunotherapy for the Treatment of Peanut Allergy,” evaluated the safety and tolerability of a skin patch.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is another form of immunotherapy. This process, while less well-studied than OIT, involves placing a daily peanut extract under the patient’s tongue; the dosage is increased gradually over time. Get more information on SLIT.