Probiotics may Help Treat Peanut Allergies

Allergies to peanuts have become such a big problem for adults and kids — from diarrhea and hives to shortness of breath and life-threatening anaphylaxis — many people avoid them altogether.

Despite federal regulations that ensure packaged foods list the presence of the eight major food allergens, including peanuts, paying attention to the fine print on food labels (especially foods bought in bulk) and restaurant menus requires consumers to be constantly vigilant.

You may recall the results of an Australian study conducted at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) I posted a while back that found children taking probiotics containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus along with increasing amounts of peanut protein “trained” their immune systems to develop a tolerance to small amounts of peanuts without a problem.

Combining doses of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, one of the 10 strains of beneficial bacteria contained in EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, with peanut protein would shift the body’s allergic response to one of tolerance, researchers said.

At the time, all but five of the 28 children who received this treatment consumed peanuts with few problems. So, would this protection to severe allergic symptoms last?

Commonly, the benefits of such therapies extend for a short time, and very few patients enjoy this protection over the long term, according to medical experts.

The results of follow-up research with 48 children from the previous study (featured recently in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health) were far better than many expected.

Two-thirds of the kids who were treated with probiotics four years ago and could eat peanuts safely back then were still able to do so.

Even better, more than half of those young patients in the probiotic group were eating 2 grams or more of peanuts at least once or twice a week.

“These children had been eating peanut[s] freely in their diet without having to follow any particular program of peanut intake in the years after treatment was completed,” says lead researcher Dr. Mimi Tang, according to a press release.

“The importance of this finding is that these children were able to eat peanut[s] like children who don’t have peanut [allergies] and still maintain their tolerant state, protected against reactions to peanut[s].”

Now, Australian researchers are hoping to duplicate these impressive results on a larger scale with a larger follow-up study already taking place, says Dr. Tang.

Still, rolling out an effective protocol for patients and doctors could take at least five years if not longer.

Until then, you’ll want to review my tips for avoiding peanut allergens and discuss any strategies to treat them with your family physician first.

Could probiotics be a future treatment for peanut allergies?

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.

More Research

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Peanut allergens floating in the air can cause allergic reactions, so be cautious about your environment.
  3. Read food and product labels carefully before using them. Some shampoos, pet foods and lotions contain peanuts.
  4. 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.

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