Sold on corners, in gas station parking lots and roadside stands, and in flea markets across the Southern U.S. throughout the late summer and fall (when the crop is harvested), folks in the South know a good boiled peanut is a true delicacy. But, surprising new research finds that the quintessential southern treat actually has some unexpected health benefits — including being a potential new peanut allergy treatment.
Called oral immunotherapy, the practice of desensitizing peanut-allergic children by giving them controlled amounts of peanuts has gained acceptance over the last several years. The idea is that by exposing allergic kids to minute amounts of the allergen, below the level that elicits an allergic reaction, and slowly increasing the amount of exposure, you train the body to accept the allergen as normal and reduce the risk of a dangerous reaction. This is similar to how Palforzia works, the first treatment for peanut allergies approved by the FDA.
It’s important to note that oral immunotherapy should only be undertaken under doctor’s orders and with medical supervision. Parents of allergic children should seek medical care at the first sign of a peanut allergy and not try to desensitize children without medical advice. Peanut allergies can be life-threatening, and care should be taken to avoid the allergen unless otherwise specified by your child’s physician.
Between 1% and 3% of kids have peanut allergies, and while some reactions can be mild — hives, itching, sneezing, runny nose, or watering eyes — they can be more severe, ranging from shortness of breath and tightening of the throat to more dangerous reactions like anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is characterized by swelling that can impede respiration, a dangerous drop in blood pressure, racing heartbeat, and unconsciousness. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
Researchers from Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute in Adelaide, Australia, followed 70 children through a trial of oral immunotherapy comprised of boiled and roasted peanuts. Boiling the peanuts helps to break down proteins and reduce the immunoreactivity of the peanut, thereby reducing the risk of a severe reaction.
Daily for 12 weeks, peanut-allergic children were given peanuts that had been boiled for 12 hours, followed by 20 weeks of peanuts that had been boiled for two hours. They then received roasted peanuts for another 20 weeks until they reached a maintenance dose of 12 roasted peanuts per day.
Eighty percent of the children in the trial became desensitized to peanuts at the completion of the trial.
“Oral immunotherapy using boiled followed by roasted peanuts represents a pragmatic approach that appears effective in inducing desensitization and is associated with a favourable safety profile,” the authors wrote.
It should be noted that there were adverse reactions to peanuts over the course of the study — 43 of the children reported some reaction, though most were mild. Three children needed to use emergency epinephrine, commonly called an EpiPen, due to a reaction. Due to the small sample size, more research is required to determine the safety and efficacy of boiled peanut immunotherapy across demographics.