Jan. 30 - A study of British children suffering from peanut allergy has shown that most can overcome their serious intolerance with a six month program of gradual exposure to the legume. Eleven-year-old Lena Barden was one of 85 children exposed to steadily increasing measures of peanut protein and can now eat five per day with no ill-effect. Jim Drury reports.
Eleven-year-old Lena Barden is one of half a million peanut allergy sufferers in the UK. When exposed to peanuts in unlabelled food, she used to feel the effects almost immediately. SOUNDBITE (English) LENA BARDEN , PEANUT STUDY PARTICIPANT, SAYING: "Usually my lips swell up my tongue kind of goes fuzzy, tingly, and my throats starts, I start wheezing and my throat starts clogging up." But now she's able to tolerate the legume, having been exposed to small, but increasing, doses of peanut protein in a six month study at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. 85 children took part and by the end, 84 percent of them could eat five whole peanuts a day, says researcher Dr Andrew Clark. SOUNDBITE (English) DR ANDREW CLARK, CONSULTANT, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS NHS FOUNDATION TRUST, SAYING: "So we take this peanut flour, which is ground up and we feed it to the patient very gradually using a very tiny amount to begin with, just one seventieth of a peanut and we give that to them every day and we increase it every two weeks until after three or four months they're able to eat peanuts regularly." Peanuts are the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions to food. Sufferers must read every ingredient on food labels, and carry an auto-injectable antidote in case of accidental consumption. Lena still doesn't like the taste of peanuts, but knows she must keep eating her five a day to maintain her tolerance. SOUNDBITE (English) LENA BARDEN , PEANUT STUDY PARTICIPANT, SAYING: "Before I started the trial I couldn't eat absolutely anything, not even 'may contain traces of peanuts'. And then they started me with two milligrams of a peanut, which apparently is a seventieth of a peanut and I had that mixed in with yogurt so I couldn't taste it at all and then they doubled the dose every two weeks and since then for two years I've been eating five peanuts a day, so that's quite cool." But for anyone tempted to try the therapy for themselves at home, Andrew Clark says 'don't'. Self-medicating could be fatal, although he says, if done responsibly in a clinical setting such treatment could end years of misery for sufferers.