How do you treat a peanut allergy? Unfortunately for sufferers of this nut intolerance, you don’t. There is no treatment currently available, but a new study suggests that being exposed to small amounts of peanut protein over time increases one’s peanut tolerance. A lot.
Researchers figured this out using a common allergy therapy called sublingual immunotherapy, which is a fancy way of saying they put a little bit of peanut powder under 20 allergic people’s tongues. The exposure was repeated every day for about a year. The longer participants were exposed to the peanut powder, the less sensitive most participants became to it.
People with milk allergies often turn to products like rice and soy milks. But now, in a twist, there is a new source of hypoallergenic milk in the offing: genetically-modified cows.
Crawling my way to a healthier immune system.
Bacteria are practically everywhere around us, including on and inside you, but that is in many ways a good thing. For instance, having a diverse set of microbes living on your skin might help prevent allergies. A new study published in PNAS links two factors related to how microbes might affect our health: the observation that diversity of microbes on a person is related to the diversity of microbes in their environment, and the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that the modern uptick in allergies and autoimmune diseases is caused by childhood under-exposure to bacteria.
For a while now, scientists have known that kids living on farms are less likely to have allergies or asthma. Being around livestock means the farm kids are also around a more diverse set of bacteria than city kids living in an apartment. In this new study, scientists swabbed the skin bacteria of 118 Finnish kids, some who lived in rural areas and some who lived in urban areas. They also tested the kids for levels of an antibody called IgE, high levels of which indicate hypersensitivity to allergens, or what is known as atopy. Lastly, they surveyed the parents about plant diversity around their homes.
What’s the News: For someone with severe peanut allergies, the tiniest trace of the nut makes their immune system go into overdrive, attacking what it perceives as an intruder so vehemently that the person can go into anaphylactic shock. Scientists may have found a way to calm that immune overreaction, a new study in rats shows, by tacking peanut proteins onto certain immune cells, effectively teaching the whole system that peanuts aren’t a threat.
Cleanliness is a virtue, but it’s possible to overdo it–that’s the message from a new study, which found that antibacterial soap may be doing teenagers more harm than good. The study found that the more teenagers are exposed to the antibiotic triclosan, the more likely they are to suffer from allergies and hayfever.
The researchers also looked at the effects of the widely used plastic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), and found signs that teenagers with more BPA exposure may have immune system problems. The study was the first of its kind to examine the link between these two chemicals and immune dysfunction, which had only previously been studied in animals. Both chemicals are endocrine-disruptors, which means they may mimic or interfere with the body’s natural hormones.
“Many research studies show an association between exposure to environmental chemicals and different disease outcomes. There is a lack of data, however, examining whether exposure to these chemicals may affect our immune systems,” Erin Rees Clayton, a researcher from the University of Michigan school of public health said in an email. [The Montreal Gazette]
Peanut lovers everywhere may have reason to celebrate. Doctors in England believe they have cured the peanut allergy, at least on a temporary basis. Using the simple technique of desensitization, doctors at the Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge exposed four children to peanuts over six months, during which time they successfully built up a tolerance. The children were started on 5 milligrams (.02 percent of an ounce) of peanut flour daily and by the end of the trial were able to ingest 880 milligrams a day, the equivalent of 5 whole peanuts. The study, which has been published in Allergy, continues and now includes 20 children between the ages of seven and 17, some of whom are able to ingest 12 peanuts a day. They would be monitored for the next three or four years to assess their tolerance levels, [lead researcher Andrew] Clark said, adding that there was no reason why the clinical trial could not be extended to adults [AFP].
Consultant allergist Pamela Ewan said, “Until now there has been no treatment that has modified the disease. There has only been effective management of the problems” [Medical News Today]. The new research brings hope to the many people, adults as well as children, who suffer from peanut allergy, which most often triggers breathing problems but can also cause potentially fatal anaphylactic shock or cardiac arrest.
The fear surrounding nut allergies among children has gotten so out of control, one doctor says, that it could be considered an outbreak of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), more informally known as mass hysteria. Writing in the British Medical Journal, medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis argues that a tiny fraction of hospital admissions and deaths are due to allergic reactions to nuts yet ever more draconian measures are being brought in to prevent any child coming into contact with nuts [Telegraph]. Those draconian measures fuel parents’ anxieties, Christakis says, in what he calls a “cycle of over-reaction.”
Christakis cites the extreme example of when a potentially fatal peanut was “spotted on the floor of a school bus, whereupon the bus was evacuated and cleaned (I am tempted to say decontaminated), even though it was full of 10-year-olds who, unlike two-year-olds, could actually be told not to eat food off the floor” [The Register]. He also mentions some school policies of banning all nuts, peanut butter, and even baked goods that may have come into contact with nuts. While he acknowledges that nut allergies can be serious and even deadly, Christakis says that reasonable preventative measures could protect vulnerable children without scaring the bejesus out of everyone else.
The issue of the First Dog came to national attention with Barack Obama‘s first press conference as President-elect, when he announced that the lucky puppy would have to be hypoallergenic due to older daughter Malia’s allergies. Since then, nominations for First Dog have come from all sides, even from foreign countries: Peru has offered to send a Peruvian Hairless Dog, prized by Incan kings, to the Obamas. But all the buzz has prompted a reality check from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), which released a statement today reminding people that there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog.
Avoiding dog allergies completely may not be an option. It’s a misconception that dog allergies are caused by the dog’s hair. Allergies are caused by protein from the animal’s dander, which can be found in dead skin cells, saliva and urine. These microscopic proteins travel through the air and are inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction in, well, quite a few people [Los Angeles Times]. Studies suggest there are about 10 million Americans who suffer from dog allergies, but sensitivity varies and some people may do fine with certain breeds that are more allergy-friendly. These breeds may produce less dander or are groomed more often to keep dander at bay. Breeds often considered allergy-friendly include poodles, Kerry blue terriers, schnauzers, bichons and lhasa apsos.
In a day of mixed results for Alzheimer’s research, researchers found that an experimental vaccine failed to prevent the disease’s crippling dementia, but also noted that a drug once used to treat hayfever “significantly” improves the symptoms of memory loss. The two separate studies were both published in the Lancet [subscription required], and offer a telling reminder that in medical research progress against a disease is rarely straightforward.
The first study treated patients who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with a vaccine that targeted the protein plaques that clump around brain cells in increasing numbers as Alzheimer’s progresses. The theory was that dementia could be slowed or reversed once the plaques were cleared [HealthDay News]. However, the vaccine had no effect on the patients’ slide into dementia, despite the fact that autopsies of patients who died during the study showed that the plaques had largely vanished.