These days, more and more people seem to have food allergies, which can sometimes have life-threatening consequences. In ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists report the development of a new type of flour that someday could be used in food-based therapies to help people better tolerate their allergy triggers, including peanuts.
Mary Ann Lila and colleagues note that of the 170 foods that cause allergic reactions, peanuts can be the most dangerous. These reactions can range from mild itching and hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock, in which a person’s throat swells, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. An experimental treatment that involves giving minute quantities of the trigger food to patients over a period of time in a clinic is successful for some patients who are allergic to peanuts. The process, called desensitization, sets off beneficial responses by the body to the food. But the milled roasted peanut flour that is currently used can have severe side effects. Lila’s team set out to design a new type of flour that could help control food allergies without causing dangerous side effects.
They turned to plant polyphenols, which have shown promise as compounds that can dampen allergic reactions. The scientists developed a modified flour powder in which cranberry polyphenols were bound to peanut proteins. With this extra cargo, the peanut-containing powder triggered the beneficial desensitization reactions, without provoking harmful allergic responses in laboratory tests with mice.
The scientists note that the technique could also be adapted for other food allergies.
The authors acknowledge funding from the Everett W. Byrd Endowment and the North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus at Kannapolis.
Peanut Allergy Prevalence
Peanut and tree nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.) allergy can be a serious condition that affects approximately three million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the population.
Peanuts are the leading cause of severe food allergic reactions, followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs. (Food Allergy Network)
Peanut Allergy Characteristics
Peanut allergy can be characterized by more severe symptoms, such as gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory symptoms, than other food allergies and by a high rate of symptoms on minimal contact. (“Clinical characteristics of peanut allergy,” Clin. Exp. Allergy, 1997; “An evaluation of the sensitivity of subjects with peanut allergy to very low doses of peanut protein,” J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., 1997)
Severe sufferers also may experience potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock in response to ingestion of peanuts. Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction in which the release of histamine causes swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death.
As many as one-third of peanut-sensitive patients have severe reactions, such as fatal and near-fatal anaphylaxis. (“Anaphylactic deaths in asthmatic patients,” Allergy Proc., 1989)
Avoidance of peanuts is very difficult because peanuts are commonly used as an adulterant in the preparation of foods. (Allergic reaction to inadvertent peanut contact in a child,” Allergy Asthma Proc., 1997)
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