Peanut Allergy Can Be Treated With the Very Thing That Causes It

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An estimated 1.8 million children in the U.S. have a potentially life-threatening allergy to peanuts. (According to the National Institutes of Health, little is known about peanut allergies in adults.) The culprit in allergic reactions is peanut protein, which the immune system in some people misidentifies as something harmful, causing it to release symptom-causing chemicals into the body.

Some research suggests that parents can stave off the affliction by feeding peanut products to infants between the ages of four and six months. Several other remedies are also available, but now there’s a new, fast-acting technique that can protect the allergic from severe reactions.

It’s called sublingual immunotherapy, known by the unfortunate acronym SLIT. The therapy involves placing a small quantity of liquified peanut protein — the very agent that causes the problem in the first place — under the sufferer’s tongue. From there it is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream where it desensitizes the immune system to larger doses of the substance.

Other similar therapies include a skin patch that releases small amounts of peanut protein and oral immunotherapy (OIT), which involves digesting a small amount of the allergen daily, gradually increasing from 0.5 mg to 300 mg. The patch has proved less effective than was hoped, and there are suggestions that daily ingestion of the protein might have serious side effects.

SLIT, on the other hand, avoids the digestive tract, and involves only microscopic amounts of the protein — starting with 0.0002 mg and increasing over the course of several months to just 2 mg. It takes about 100 mg of the protein to trigger an allergic reaction (an average peanut kernel contains 300 mg).

According to the paper examining the effectiveness of this new immunotherapy on those with peanut allergies, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, SLIT seems to be about as effective as OIT but poses much less risk of side effects.

Dr. Edwin Kim, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who was the study’s lead author, stresses that SLIT won’t cure peanut allergies — just make the reaction to them much less severe.

“The main idea…,” he said, “is not for kids to be able to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It’s to keep them safe from the small hidden exposures that could occur with packaged foods, at restaurants, and with other food exposures.” Some store-bought foods with peanuts are not that healthy anyway — these are at least 20 foods and drinks you only think are healthy.

Peanut butter is becoming more expensive anyway, as price-conscious supermarket shoppers will have noticed. Here are 20 groceries driving up your food bill the most.