Ancient Roman kings would purposely ingest poison in order to build up immunity to it. Modern allergists seem to be taking a page from their playbook in order to relieve allergies. A study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that peanut allergies could be eased by exposure to peanuts.
The study was conducted with 40 adults and adolescents who suffered from peanut allergies. The researchers first performed a test in order to establish how many - or how few - peanuts the participants could tolerate. Then 20 participants were administered sublingual therapy. In this case, they received tiny amounts of peanut powder that they placed under their tongue. The other half was given a placebo powder. Gradually, both groups received slightly more powder.
The results were pretty astounding. After 44 weeks of the study, 14 of the 20 given the peanut powder, or 70 percent, were able to withstand 10 times the amount of peanut exposure than they were able at the start of the study. Only three in the placebo group were able to say the same. In the peanut powder group, many people were able to withstand a peanut exposure at 100 times what they previously could.
The research is exciting for people with food allergies, but the scientists note in a statement that much more work is needed. It certainly does not mean that people should try a similar approach themselves; the first-stage doses contained a billionth of a gram of peanut powder, far smaller than any person could reasonably cut in the kitchen. Even after months of training, even those who responded well to the treatment were able to only tolerate a fraction of an ounce of peanut powder. While participants mostly reported minor side effects from the treatment, like an itchy mouth, one participant had a reaction so severe that it required the use of an EpiPen.
The treatment was also hardly a cure. The allergy sufferers who responded best could withstand exposure equivalent to trace amounts of peanuts - like someone cooking in the same pan that had previously been used to cook a dish with peanuts. The participants were certainly not able to withstand a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Regardless, the findings were still good, especially for children who may unwittingly come into contact with trace amounts of peanuts.
The study was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.