Peanut allergies are affecting an increasing number of children with a doubling in the past decade. It is estimated now that 3% of all children under 1 year of age in Australia are affected with similar results in developed countries. While that overall number might seem low, its effect is profound. The rate of hospitilisations is high and it has had an enormous flow on challenge to classrooms and day care centres who have had to place a total ban on nuts.
Allergies in children particularly to peanuts can range from mild (hives, swelling, cough) to severe. In fact it can be deadly although thankfully it has been in only a small number of cases. When a severe anaphylactic reaction occurs it can affect breathing, heart, dizziness and/or collapse.
For children and their parents, a peanut allergy can be terrifying, leading to constant anxiety about a reaction to even trace amounts of peanuts. For parents with allergic children it is one of their biggest concerns as there is not always an Epipen or adrenaline autoinjector handy.
Why current treatment is not a cure
The current and recommended treatment is one of avoidance of the allergen. Parents are encouraged to prepare all their child’s food and avoid any sharing or swapping of food.
But what parents worry about most is accidental exposure – peanuts are widely used in processed Western foods and oriental cooking. Eating out or children’s parties can be a nightmare .
Even common eating and food preparation in areas such as childcare centres could lead to food contamination.
Hopes for a possible cure
There is new hope on the horizon with 2 possible directions for a cure.
- Probiotics and the gut connection
A new study by researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne Australia say a particular strain of probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus could offer a possible cure for people with potentially fatal peanut allergies.
Scientists completed an 18-month study of 60 children with confirmed peanut allergies who were given either a probiotic along with a small dose of peanut protein or a placebo.
Amazingly, more than 80 percent of the children on probiotic therapy were able to eat peanuts by the end of the trial. Only one of the children treated with the placebo could do the same.
- Early Exposure A new study shows that children with peanut allergy who are exposed to very low trace amounts of peanut protein powder to de-sensitize their immune systems can boost their tolerance to peanuts. Babies regularly given peanut powder for at least four years cut their risk of peanut allergy by an average of 81%, compared with children who avoided peanuts.
The treatment appears safe. The rate of hospitalizations and serious complications was the same among children who ate peanuts and in those who avoided them. However parents should never try this on their own as the children in the study were exposed to peanuts only in a hospital setting, where they could receive prompt medical treatment if a reaction occurred.
What can I do now for a child with peanut allergy?
For the moment avoidance is still the best strategy. Keep the use of processed foods to a minimum and eat whole foods as natural as possible. Prepare meals at home. This will dramatically reduce the risk of exposure to hidden allergens, while providing the best nutrition at the same time.
You could also add a probiotic supplement to your child’s diet. Choose one such as Polybac 8 that has Lactobacillus rhamnosus as one of the ingredients. It is very safe and will improve digestion, elimination and help with allergies.