Meet Emma Fabian. She’s a spunky three-year-old who likes to play outside, and who likes to paint pictures. But one thing she doesn’t like is peanuts. Why? Because they can cause her harm.
Emma has a severe peanut allergy.
“They told us to avoid absolutely all peanuts. No peanut oil, no peanut butter, not to cook with it in the house because even airborne her allergy is so severe could be dangerous for her, so they just told us to read every single label on every food to make sure there’s no peanut in it.”
And Emma’s not alone. In fact, the number of children with peanut allergies is rising. Over the past 20 years the numbers have more than tripled. And these allergies are not to be taken lightly and can lead to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic response.
“A food allergy is basically when your body sees an allergen and it somewhat attacks it. Your body makes antibodies to that peanut allergy and binds to this peanut allergen, connects, then releases all these chemicals. Histamines, prostaglandins, leukotrienes. Then that causes the symptoms that we see, meaning swelling, hives, nausea, vomiting, and even to the point of loss of blood pressure, unconscious, and the worst part is fatalities or death.”
But a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine might put a big dent in the number of future peanut allergy sufferers. The study gave one group peanut protein at a very early age, about three to four months. A second group received the more conventional practice of introducing peanuts later, when a child’s about three. The results were surprising.
“They found out they had like an eighty percent reduction in peanut allergy then people had it, who got introduced peanut early than those who did not. So that’s why it’s kind of a game-changer on how we’re thinking that maybe now we should we introduce it early versus holding it.”
And Dr. Chacko believes that information might also change the guidelines for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Many of whom had been advised to steer clear of certain foods during this time.
“Previously, we recommended breastfeeding women, or pregnant women, to hold off on eating allergenic foods. But now with this data, I don’t think it will be strongly recommended to hold off on it orally like we can get it without any problems.”
And some doctors believe these new advances might be only the beginning in the battle to reduce food allergies.
“It probably will go across the board and probably although we only have the study now for peanut this will probably change the culture and really introduce allergic foods as early as they’re able to, like as with other solids.”
And while for now this new insight won’t help Emma, current research in the area of food allergies is showing some promise that there might be ways to lower the severity of her reactions in the future.