Tom Whipple

Science Editor

The Times

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes: At last some common sense. There are too many people avoiding various food groups, either through formally diagnosed or perceived allergies/intolerances. All food is foreign to the gut and provokes a degree of endotoxaemia (localised inflammation in the gut), a good functioning immune system should be able to keep this in check. When we overload the system with constant exposure to the same food group, we tend to start to react to things, so for most of the UK population there are often issues with wheat and cows produce (because people here eat too much of it). Do your best not to eat the same thing every day, this will reduce your risk of developing an allergy/intolerance.

 Allergies are highly emotive, recent press coverage of people dying because of inadvertent exposure to foods they are highly allergic to, make all of us more afraid.

 For many years some of us have through that it is better to eat a small amount of the things we are allergic to, so that our immune systems can be taught to NOT overreact.

 The research below now confirms this, focused on severe peanut allergy. Whilst it is possible to avoid the things we are allergic to, sometimes we can inadvertently eat those things and end up feeling sick or worse.

The emphasis of the study was “The intention here is not that folk freely eat peanut butter, it’s more that if they accidentally ingest it, they won’t react.”

I think that is an important message. It will I suspect take years to get that message across, so much is the fear of allergy.

I suspect that other allergens, such as gluten for celiac patients, may well be treated in the same way eventually.

So, think about whether you really need to completely avoid the food you are or think you are allergic to. Perhaps it might be best to leave a very small amount of exposure to that food so that when you do eat something inadvertently, your immune system does not overreact.

Thousands of children with peanut allergies could benefit from a new treatment that trains the body to tolerate contaminated food.

By slowly introducing small quantities of peanut protein into the diets of children with severe allergies, researchers found that after a year two thirds of them could tolerate a dose equivalent to two peanuts.

One in fifty primary school-age children in the UK has a peanut allergy. The treatment, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, is not a “cure”, but is intended to help peanut allergy sufferers live more normal lives.

“Peanut allergy is common, and very few people outgrow it,” George Du Toit, an allergy doctor at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said. “Occasionally it is associated with fatalities. More commonly it is associated with reactions that are extremely unpleasant. The current state of play is that once you have a diagnosis you receive education around avoidance.

“From the day of diagnosis, your relationship with food changes. You have to be suspicious of each and every meal. Patients have a tough time

Professor Du Toit led the UK arm of the trial, which involved about 500 children under the age of 17. Starting with a tiny dose, equivalent to a hundredth of a peanut, the researchers slowly exposed the participants to peanut protein with their meals.

This exposure was increased until they were receiving a peanut’s-worth. In a final test, most could tolerate twice as much. Professor Du Toit said that this was enough to remove the daily fear of eating food they had not prepared themselves. “The intention here is not that folk freely eat peanut butter, it’s more that if they accidentally ingest it, they won’t react.”

He said that the work was still at a research phase and strongly advised against people trying the treatment themselves without medical supervision. One aspect yet to be tested is the extent to which the tolerance would be maintained if the exposure was stopped.

Parents of children involved in the initial testing said that it had already changed their lives. Sophie Pratt, 44, found out that her daughter Emily had a severe peanut allergy when she was one. “Before Emily took part, we were uncomfortable being more than 20 minutes away from a hospital,” she said.

“We had to constantly study food labels to ensure peanuts were completely eliminated from Emily’s diet. Her allergy was very severe, so even a small amount of peanut could lead to a very serious reaction. The impact on our family life was huge.”

After participating in the trial, Emily, now six, can tolerate seven peanuts, which Ms Pratt said is life changing. “We can let her socialise with friends and do all the normal things that other children do without worrying that she might have a severe reaction,” she said.