Allergies that come with the flip of a calendar page to spring may be a nagging problem for 50 million Americans but seem very minor when compared to the seriousness of food sensitivities.
Of the eight foods or food groups that provoke 90 percent of the most serious responses, allergic reactions to peanuts are the most common.
Itchy eyes, a stomach ache or a tingling in or around your mouth are considered mild symptoms that may be treated by taking an antihistamine.
More severe symptoms, including breathing difficulties, a dramatic drop in blood pressure and dizziness, are considered life-threatening medical emergencies connected to anaphylaxis, a dangerous whole body reaction by the immune system to an allergen. Such serious reactions necessitate following a prescribed action plan by your doctor, which will likely include an emergency injection of epinephrine and a trip to the ER.
Unfortunately, the number of children under age 18 who are vulnerable to allergies to peanuts and tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) is growing, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The Good News
A recent double-blind study that treated children with probiotics over 18 months offers some evidence of a safe, long-term solution to peanut allergies.
Australian researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute compared the effect of taking a probiotic containing a proprietary strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (also one of several beneficial strains of bacteria contained in EndoMune Advanced Probiotic) along with an increasing course of peanut protein in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 60 children.
Of the 56 children who finished the 18-month trial, all but five of the 28 young patients who received probiotics could safely tolerate eating 4 grams of peanut protein without a problem, compared to only one of the placebo group. Also, the beneficial effect of the treatment lasted up to five weeks in some patients.
Researchers are planning a follow-up study that would measure the response of this treatment three to four years after giving patients probiotics.
Although some experts aren’t sure if probiotics were the answer, recent research with mice by scientists at the University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences may provide some clues.
Two sets of mice (one was born germ-free while the other was treated with antibiotics at birth) with limited gut bacteria displayed a strong reaction to peanuts when compared to normal mice. Introducing a strain of Clostridia back into the guts of mice reversed these reactions, but a second group of intestinal bacteria tested by scientists (Bacteroides) failed.
“It’s exciting because we know what the bacteria are; we have a way to intervene,” says Dr. Cathryn Nagler, senior study author, in a news release. “There are of course no guarantees, but this is absolutely testable as a therapeutic against a disease for which there’s nothing. As a mom, I can imagine how frightening it must be to worry every time your child takes a bite of food.”
Tips to Avoid Peanut Allergens
Some tips you must consider to avoid allergic reactions to peanuts:
- Know what you’re eating, especially at restaurants, parties and the homes of friends. Don’t be afraid to ask about peanut ingredients in prepared foods if you have any doubt about their safety.
- Peanut allergens floating in the air can cause allergic reactions, so be cautious about your environment.
- Read food and product labels carefully before using them. Some shampoos, pet foods and lotions contain peanuts.
- Be prepared for the worst by taking an epinephrine shot with you at all times.
Additionally, despite this good news about probiotics and a healthy gut microbiome being a possible solution one day to lessening peanut allergies, I strongly recommend seeking the advice of your family doctor first to guide you in the treatment of peanut allergies.