The amount of people affected by peanut allergies has doubled in the last five years, with one in 100 children in Europe and America thought to now be allergic to peanuts.
For some people, this allergy is an inconvenience that may cause a rash or vomiting, for others however – it can prove fatal. This is why the recent research into peanut allergies has been followed with such interest.
The study, published in the Lancet, divided 100 children into two groups; one that avoided peanuts and another that was given increasing amounts of peanut flour daily. After a period of six months, 91% of those given peanut flour were able to tolerate up to 800mg a day (equating to about five peanuts).
Some children did have reactions; however, overall the children felt their quality of life was better. The research aims to help children survive eating a peanut by mistake, rather than allowing them to eat a bag of peanuts without consequence.
While initial results look promising, experts are warning people not to copy this method at home. The study was carried out by medical professionals in a controlled environment and the use of such treatment is considered years away; this is partly because larger trials are required and partly because there is no evidence yet to prove long-term effects.
Dr Matthew Greenhawt wrote an editorial on the study and says that rates of peanut allergies are rising because peanuts are being used in so many different foods. He also says that our immune systems have fewer infections to fight due to better hygiene, causing them to overreact when faced with inflammation from allergic reactions.
Another study (called the Leap trial) is due to release its findings regarding the right age to introduce peanuts later on this year. Currently there is conflicting advice surrounding children under the age of three and whether or not they should be introduced to peanuts. Some researchers have pointed out that countries that allow young children to eat peanuts typically have lower rates of peanut allergy.