Peanuts: The Cure for Peanut Allergies

December 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
12-million Americans suffer from food allergies. More than three-million of them are allergic to peanuts. While there are drugs to treat an allergic reaction, there's nothing that can fix food allergies for good. Now, doctors are using peanuts themselves to treat allergies. The goal is to cure the potentially life-threatening condition.Severe peanut allergies made nine-year old Noah Schaffer feel like an outsider. "I had to sit at a different table than other people because they had peanut butter, and I couldn't sit by my friends," Schaffer told Ivanhoe.

His mom worried more about his health than his popularity. Just one-tenth of a peanut would cause a violent reaction. "His lips swelled," Robyn Smith, Noah's mom, told Ivanhoe. "His ears swelled up. His eyes started to close up, and he started to get hives all over his body."

Noah enrolled in a Duke University study to retrain his immune system. The new treatment mixes a tiny amount of peanut powder -- about one-thousandth of a peanut -- into a child's food. Gradually, they increase the dose over time.

"We see the first changes to the immune system happen about six months into treatment and then further changes happen beyond a couple years of the treatment," Wesley Burks, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center described to Ivanhoe.

In the four-year study, 89-percent of the kids with severe peanut allergies could eat up to 15 peanuts. 12 percent had to drop out because they couldn't handle the treatment, but another 25 percent lost their peanut allergies altogether in another part of the study. Noah is one of the success stories.

"He was able to eat 40 peanuts, two tablespoons of peanut butter, plus peanut produce, and he had no reaction whatsoever," Smith exclaimed.

Now, he keeps his immunity up by eating a daily dose of his favorite treat, Reese's peanut butter cups. It is a life-changing experience for a boy and his family who now has a much higher tolerance and much lower anxiety.

Doctor Burks says this was a medically-supervised study, and parents should not try the approach at home. Doctors at Duke University and Arkansas children's hospital are still enrolling kids in more peanut allergy studies. They believe there will be a treatment for peanut allergies in the next two or three years.

For More Information, Contact:
Duke University Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Immunology
Durham, NC
(919) 668-1333


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