With the help of probiotics, some kids in Australia are now doing something they never thought they’d be able to do: eat a peanut.
Peanut allergies affect increasing number of kids around the world and nobody can say why exactly. But, as we’ve seen recently, immunotherapy might offer a cure. By gradually exposing kids to what ails them, it may be possible to sensitize patients, like how a vaccine sensitizes our bodies to respond quickly to a serious disease.
Researchers at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, in Victoria, exposed 60 allergic children to small amounts of peanut protein over an 18 month period, adding in a dose of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a common probiotic found in yogurts. Remarkably, four out of five kids tolerated the nut at the end of the trial, a success rate 20 times better than normal immunotherapy.
“I believe that the probiotic provided a stimulus to the immune system to promote tolerance type responses, so when it was co-presented with the allergen, the immune system was ‘encouraged’ to respond differently to the allergen than how it might usually respond,” says lead researcher Mimi Tang in an email.
The dosing was daily and difficult for some kids, according to Tang. But many parents were pleased with the eventual results. Now the treatment has to be tested over a longer period and compared against other peanut allergy treatments.
Tang tells families not to try the idea at home–say with a bunch of peanuts and some yogurt. “The treatment requires the combined ingestion of probiotic together with the allergen, and people with food allergy must not introduce their allergen,” she says.