Hypoallergenic Peanuts Are Coming

These specially-treated nuts could help peanut allergy sufferers to overcome their plight.

Photos: Flickr/Daniella Segura and Food Safety News

Photos: Flickr/Daniella Segura and Food Safety News

Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from peanut allergies. Chances are excellent you know someone who’s allergic, or are allergic to peanuts yourself.

Many of these peanut allergy sufferers are children. This allergy in particular is often so severe that the classic American childhood snack of a PB&J could be deadly.

Enter Dr. Jianmei Yu of the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Along with two former faculty members who now work at Qatar University, Yu has developed a specific process to treat roasted peanuts using food enzymes that are already commonly used in food processing.

As Food Safety News reportsmultiple studies show the peanut allergen Ara h 1 is reduced to “undetectable levels,” and allergen Ara h 2 is reduced up to 98%.

What about the taste, you ask? Treated peanuts reportedly look and taste just like you’d expect roasted peanuts to taste. What’s more, none of this comes from genetic modification—it’s strictly the result of a patented process that Dr. Yu has licensed to Xemerge, a firm that specializes in commercializing tech like this.

Dr. Yu sees a bright commercial future ahead:

“Treated peanuts can be used as whole peanuts, in pieces, or as flour to make foods containing peanuts safer for many people who are allergic.”

She also sees these peanuts becoming useful in doctor-supervised exposure therapy, a field in which scientists have been laboring for several years.

According to a study released in January from the Stanford University School of Medicine, clinical trials of exposure therapy on children have shown that some people’s DNA actually changes as a result of exposure to peanuts.

How does exposure therapy work? In these trials, doctors offered ever-increasing amounts of peanut powder to allergic trial participants. The goal? Complete desensitization. Once trials were over, allergy sufferers were then asked to continue eating a few peanuts every day.

If this was only exposure therapy, that’s where the story would end.

For these trials, however, scientists examined 20 peanut allergy sufferers, both adults and children. These trial participants had successfully completed two years of exposure therapy, and had gradually become able to eat up to a 4-gram serving of peanuts without experiencing an allergic reaction.

These participants were then asked to go cold turkey on the peanuts for three months, to see if their bodies would retain the tolerance they’d built.

When those three months were up, thirteen participants were allergic again, while seven remained allergy-free.

Tests revealed that the participants who remained allergy-free had experienced significant epigenetic changes to their DNA.

Dr. Kari Nadeau, lead scientist in these trials, found these results promising. He says, “This might help us tell people if they can safely go off of immunotherapy, or if they need to continue to eat the food every day.”

[via Food Safety News]

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