March 1st, 2010
02:11 PM ET

Tiny doses of danger foods may hold allergy treatment

By Elizabeth Landau
CNNHealth.com Writer-Producer

Treating allergies with the very substance that presents life-threatening danger is “the wave of the future,” says Dr. Jeffery Adelglass, an allergist in Plano, Texas.

A number of studies presented this weekend at the meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology are riding that wave.

Here's hope for peanut allergy sufferers: The latest results from trials involving peanuts show that giving children who are allergic to them small amounts of peanuts daily results in tolerance of 15 peanuts at a time. The study, led by researchers at Duke University and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, did a randomized trial on 23 children, 15 of whom received the immunotherapy and eight took a placebo.

They also found that nine out of 12 children allergic to peanuts, who did immunotherapy for 32 to 61 months, could incorporate peanuts in their diets four weeks after stopping the therapy. Read more about this study at Health.com.

The results are promising, but the sample size is small, Adelglass noted. “I think that we’re at the beginning of a long process,” he said. He also noted that in general patients would probably have to stay on oral immunotherapy for life to ensure that an allergic person’s immune system would continue to tolerate the offending foods.

There's also good news coming from similar research in the United Kingdom, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Researchers are about to begin a trial with more than 100 participants to continue investigating the technique for peanut allergies. Read more about that study here.

Here's how it works: Oral immunotherapy involves giving a person a very small dose of a food to which he or she is allergic, and gradually increasing the amount over a long period of time to build up tolerance. This should only be done under a medical professional’s supervision, and should not be tried at home. Allergists are excited about the early signs that this can work for food allergies.

This is the same principle as allergy shots, usually used for seasonal allergies to pollens. Adelglass anticipates that children will be much more compliant with the oral immunotherapy than with the shots, but again stressed that it is early in the process of treating food allergies.

Another study presented at the AAAAI meeting found similarly promising results in oral immunotherapy for egg allergy, although it also had a small sample of participants. Researchers found that 21 out of 40 egg-allergic children passed the oral food challenge, being able to eat egg without serious reaction.

While many children outgrow egg allergy, those allergic to peanuts are more likely to have lifelong problems with peanut-containing foods, allergists say.

Other research presented at AAAAI found that some foods may raise a baby's risk of developing allergies and asthma, detailed here by Health.com. On the other hand, observational studies have shown that mothers should not delay the introduction of allergens in their children.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Nancy

    This study is based on the same principles as homeopathy.

    March 1, 2010 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Robin Einzig

    Particularly interesting in that this involves the "law of similars", which is the basis for homeopathy, which is widely dismissed as ineffective and quackery within western medicine. Hmm.

    March 1, 2010 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Nicole Small

    I am 53 years old and I have a peanut and fish allergy and if I smell nuts I have to be rush to the emergency room and fish as well

    March 1, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Nicole Small

    I am 53 y ears old and I always been allergic to fish and nuts if some stand beside and the smell i get sick please help your cooperation is greatly appreciated every friend I get love fish

    March 1, 2010 at 20:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michael

    I'm 63yr old male with a peanut allergy. A bad one. I got hit with peanuts three times in one week... and the last time I went code in the ambulance. The first time was in a drug store where someone behind the counter was snacking on peanuts, and I got it from the bagging or the transfer of money, Who knows. But on the way home, I had to use my Epi-pen and then to the ER. I was released later that evening. A few days later, I was eating some Ice Cream and had some peanut products in it. Another epi-pen and ER again. This time it was alot worse, and I was in over nite. Two days later I was needing a chocolate fix, and saw a candy bar that I had laying around for sometime. There were NO nuts in the bar. But it had been processed on machinery that may have had peanuts run on them. About the second bite, i could feel my neck starting to swell up,
    So I called 911 and on the way they had to bag me till I got to the ER. This time I was there a week. They told me the next time might be the last time....... So with that something needs to be done ASAP. But unless you have the allergy, you don't know how dangerous it can be. So Mothers and Fathers be ware. Check everything, and leave not for granted. And assume nothing or else it will get you..

    March 1, 2010 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Thales

    This is somewhat like the principle of homeopathy system of medicine proposed in the eighteenth century by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician. This system of medicine system is governed by the "law of similars". Basically this means that the substance which causes the problem can also cure it.

    March 1, 2010 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jalia Simaha

    I belive this study because i have seen this happen to my sister. She had a peanut allergy that was undiscovered for years and my mom unknowingly forced her at times to eat meal made withpeanuts even though she hated it. My mom did that as act of discipline because we were poor and she did not want her to be a picky eater.
    She actually did suffer as an infant too becuase she was breat fed, and my mom recalled that even after a peanut meal; which is the ideal thing to do to increase lactation, my sister will develop rashes and swellings on her face. She was just considered a sickly baby because the nurses or doctors never mentioned the word 'allergy'
    But by the time the reason for her swollen face and neck plus rashes was known, she had already built a fine immunity for it. she now eats penauts whenever she likes without any reactions.

    March 1, 2010 at 21:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Brandi

    Interesting & important to know!!! A hidden danger for people w/latex allergies are foods handled by people wearing latex gloves, or even the packaging or machinery. It's like peanut allergies in that it only takes a little but most places don't disclose if they use latex gloves in prep or cleanup of any of their products.

    March 1, 2010 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Fernando F.

    It cross my mind some time ago that maybe peanut allergies were introduce in kids by giving them too much the first time. I always wonder why aren't parents giving them a little the very first time (have a spoon for example) and then increase the amount through a few weeks. Give the liver to adjust to this kind of food. When I heard about this study I realize that I wasn't crazy for thinking like this. Maybe by doing eating more peanuts little by little no kid will be allergic to them. small steps....

    March 1, 2010 at 22:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Eileen

    I suffer from food allergies & have had much success with this type of treatment. Myself & many other patients @ LaCrosse Allergy Assoc take antigen drops to help our food & airborne allergies. The saddest part is so many Allergy physicians have poo-pooed this treatment & for many it isn't covered by insurance. I hope this can offer hope & treatment for all suffering.

    March 1, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Eugene

    The Chinese have a saying effectively to use poison to counter poison.
    Although counter-intuitive at first, the key has always been on how to apply the concept wisely. There is some danger involved but often either a last resort or form of surprise attack.

    It's an ancient philosophy that is similar to the Western concept of "Fighting fire with fire".

    March 1, 2010 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ithoughso

    I could have told you so. I grew up in the 50's, and was outside playing in the dirt, fields, woods, helping my uncles with the haying, yuou name it. It was not until my lifestyle changed and I spent most of my life cooped up inside an airconditioned home and workplace that I started developing problems. Expose people to things and let the immune systems God built into our bodies develop

    March 2, 2010 at 04:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bill

    Regarding Robin's comment, apparently she has never received any immunizations developed by 'western medicine", they rely on the same concept.

    March 2, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. AubreeS08

    Our daughter has a milk allergy. We found this out at 13 months old when I was trying to wean her from breastfeeding and she was introduced to cow's milk. She is now 2.5 and it hasn't lessened. Luckily she doesn't have such severe reactions like those allergic to tree nuts. She is allowed foods with small amounts of milk in them if they are far down on the ingredient list. It's a hit or miss if she has a reaction. She still gets hives and swelling if milk products touch her skin. So I'm not so sure this method of slowly introducing small amounts of the allergen food works!

    I am not sure how her allergy developed or what the theory is behind so many kids having food allergies. The only thing I craved while pregnant with her was milk and even then it was maybe 2 glasses at most a day.

    On another note, her allergist did tell us if/when we have another child, there is belief that the mother's diet while pregnant can help prevent food allergens. I am not sure what that diet would consist of, but our daughter has an appointment with the allergist today and since I am pregnant, I plan on asking about it.

    March 2, 2010 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Donna

    Michael, it is known that each successive exposure to peanuts is usually more severe than before. You need to be really careful.
    I take allergy shots (pollen) and I don't think they are really helping. My son is very allergic to peanuts and I would like to see more research on this type of therapy before I risk exposure for him. If it works, it will be an answer to prayer.

    March 2, 2010 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Emily

    It's an intertesting thought that we have more control over our bodies than we maybe realize. Ever since I was a baby I was awfully allergic to cats. I would have asthema attacks when someone even had cat hair on their clothing. I couldn't spend the night at friends' houses who owned cats and both of my grandmas got rid of their cats so I could be at their homes. I would get hives on my skin if I touched a cat, especially around my neck.

    I now own two cats and do not take an allergy medication AT ALL. It is quite amazing. I slowly started forcing myself to be around more cats, and then adopted a stray. I will be honest, it was miserable at first. But less than six months in, I was feeling fine and only taking one over-the-counter allergy pill. Now, I can rub my face all over my kitties and it is WONDERFUL to not have to worry about it anymore!

    I hope this new study will help kids with all different types of allergies as it is so inconvient at the least and life-threatening at the worst.

    March 2, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Melissa

    My 5 yr old daughter has food allergies. She is allergic to eggs, fruit and lavender. Luckily, she just gets hives and has no problems breathing. When she was little her egg allergy was so bad she couldn't even touch an empty egg carton without getting hives. Over the years we have slowly introduced eggs into her diet. We started small with little debbie cakes, then homemade cakes, however we still haven't eaten eggs all by themselves. She can now handle eggs without a reaction. Her fruit allergy I have never tried this with because it seems a bit more severe. She says that ALL Fruit with the exception of blueberries are hot. As for her lavender allergy we can't even have lavender scented candles or anything lavender in the house for she will get hives from head to toe. She also experiences severe eczema, which has gotten better as she has gotten older. No one else in the family has food allergies, but my family does have multiple auto-immune disorders.

    March 2, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dr. G

    This is absolutely nothing like homeopathy or the law of similars. It is based on the sceince of immunology. Those comparing it to homeopathy clearly have not read the study and do not understand basic sceince above the level found in late night infomercials for "male enhancement" pills.

    March 2, 2010 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tracy

    The "low level" of exposure they are taking about here is not something you can do on your own. They are talking about starting with the equivalent of one-millionth of a peanut (not stated in the article but true). Giving your kids "little bits" of a food they are allergic to will NOT mimic this ability to introduce the food slowly at micro-doses to build up a tolerance, because it will still be too much.

    That's why giving foods that contain some milk or eggs or peanuts far down the ingredient list won't solve their problems, and may make them worse. "a little bite" is nowhere near the microscopic level needed.

    March 5, 2010 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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