Peanut Allergy Protection
Severe peanut allergies can be a terrifying thing. Exposure to the nuts, or in some cases even the oil or flour from peanuts, can trigger an anaphylactic reaction during which the airways close and it becomes a struggle just to breathe. An immediate injection of epinephrine can reverse the symptoms to some extent, but a trip to the emergency room to ensure that the reaction has resolved is usually necessary. Needless to say, this is a major source of anxiety for the parents of children with peanut allergies, especially when they are not together. But there may soon be a major reason for these kids and their parents to smile. According to new research, probiotics are showing promise in protecting against peanut allergies.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Chicago in Illinois, found that probiotics may be successful in treating peanut allergies or helping to prevent allergic reactions from developing.1 The experiment involved the use of mice that were bred in a completely sterile, germ-free environment, and therefore had no bacteria whatsoever within their bodies. The researchers also used mice that had been given antibiotic medications shortly after birth, resulting in markedly lower levels of bacteria in the gut than what is present within a typical mouse. The control group consisted of normal mice.
The three groups of mice were exposed to the allergens in peanuts that provoke a reaction in susceptible individuals. All of the mice lacking bacteria or with lower levels of bacteria developed an extreme immune system response. As a result, they produced substantially greater amounts of antibodies to the allergens than what was seen in the typical mice.
To determine whether there were specific kinds of intestinal bacteria that appear to boost the immune system more than others, the scientists exposed the mice to a variety of germs. The most successful bacteria used in the trial was Clostridia, which is a commonly found germ often present within the human body. When certain strains of this bug were introduced to the mice's digestive tract, it appeared to prevent the rodents from developing an allergy to peanuts. What's more, the Clostridia was also shown to actually reverse sensitivities that had already developed in some of the mice. These positive effects of the bacteria seemed to be caused by their influence on the cells of the intestines to produce greater quantities of interleukin-22, a cytokine that helps defend the immune system. The interleukin-22 reduced the permeability of the intestines, allowing fewer of the allergens access to the bloodstream. This limitation of the allergens may be enough to prevent the immune system overreaction that induces anaphylaxis. Note: there are many different strains of Clostridia, and many of them are common in humans. There are also toxic Clostridia, such as Clostridium difficile, but the types of Clostridia used in the study did not include the toxic kind.
Needless to say, if these findings hold true in human studies using either Clostridia or other probiotics, this will be a major advance in health care for those with potentially life-threatening peanut allergies. And there are other positive notes on this front as well. A team of researchers at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro may have discovered a way to almost entirely eliminate the allergens from peanuts so they will no longer trigger a reaction in even the most severely allergic individuals.2 By applying an enzyme to the peanuts, they were able to break down the proteins that provoke the allergies, eliminating 98 to 100 percent of them. This could potentially lead to a hypoallergenic peanut that is edible and can be safely eaten whole, cut into pieces, or ground into flour by anyone who has an allergy.
One of the best parts of both of these breakthroughs is that they are completely natural. Probiotics help repopulate the digestive tract with the beneficial bacteria that are often destroyed by pharmaceutical drugs, other chemicals, and many of the foods we eat. And the allergy-free peanuts being developed are grown and harvested in a normal manner--no genetic modifications going on here. The difference is that after removing the shell and skin, they are treated with a food-grade enzyme to naturally break down potentially harmful proteins. With no worries about side effects or health hazards cropping up from these options, the thousands of people with peanut allergies will hopefully be able to enjoy whatever nut-laden foods they want in the near future.
- 1. Choi, Charles. "Probiotics may help prevent peanut allergies, animal study shows." Fox News. 26 August 2014. Accessed 4 September 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/08/25/probiotics-may-help-prevent-peanut-allergies-animal-study-shows
- 2. "Department of Agriculture: Researchers are close to creating an allergy-free peanut." Raw Story. 26 August 2014. Accessed 5 September 2014. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/08/26/dept-of-agriculture-researchers-are-close-to-creating-an-allergy-free-peanut