Researchers at the University of North Carolina found a very small dose of liquified peanut protein applied under the tongue can diminish reactions in the majority of children with peanut allergies. Their study was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Forty-eight children from ages 1 to 11 with peanut allergies were given tiny amounts of the protein under the tongue, where it is absorbed much faster than when it is eaten. The amount was increased over several months to 2 milligrams daily. Years later, about two-thirds of the children could tolerate at least 750 mg of peanut protein without serious side effects. One in four could handle 5,000 mg, researchers said.
- Study author Edwin Kim, an assistant professor of medicine at UNC, told Bloomberg these are the first long-term data available showing this type of therapy "is safe and tolerable, while offering a strong amount of protection."
This study could have a significant impact on millions of U.S. consumers with peanut allergies — and also for the peanut industry, manufacturers using the legume in their products, and those who deal with cross-contamination potential on their factories. A recent study pegged the number of children and teens allergic to peanuts — one of the Food and Drug Administration's major eight allergens — at about 1.2 million, or slightly more than 2% of the non-adult population. The number appears to be growing much faster among those younger than 1.
This study appears reliable since it follows a similar one the researchers did in 2011. The earlier study found this type of treatment was safe and effective for 18 patients when it was used for a year, Bloomberg reported. The five-year follow-up also helps reinforce the findings.
The peanut industry and makers of products including them are likely to applaud these study results for obvious reasons. It's difficult and expensive to segregate peanut or other allergenic ingredients within a food processing facility so they don't contaminate other items and cause problems.
Labeling requirements are another major consideration for food makers, since allergens need to be listed on product packaging. The commonly used term that a product "may contain" allergens also can cause difficulties for consumers, who are often unclear on what it means.
To try and avoid these issues, more CPG companies are opting for products not containing common allergens and prominently advertising that fact on labels. Nestlé rolled out a Simply Delicious version of its Toll House chocolate chips last year containing just three ingredients and none of the eight major allergens. Mondelez's Enjoy Life Foods — founded on the principle of producing allergy-friendly food — has gone above and beyond by not using any of 14 allergens in its products.
While this research shows promise in mitigating and reducing peanut allergies — which often cause some of the most severe reactions — it doesn't necessarily mean food manufacturers can forget their preventive measures and labeling requirements. Some food manufacturers will continue to do whatever is necessary to rid their products of peanuts or other known allergens. Considering this study, others may be less hesitant to include the legume in their products. And if this treatment can be widely successful, it may mean kid-targeted products containing peanut butter could once again be widely welcomed in school cafeterias.