Researchers Say Charcoal
Limits Peanut Allergy Shock

By Michael Higgins
National Post - Canada With News Services

Toronto doctors have discovered that a substance readily available at most pharmacies could prove to be a lifesaver for people suffering from a potentially fatal peanut allergy.
Activated charcoal has been used for years to treat the effects of poison, but Dr. Peter Vadas of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto said it can "put the brakes" on an allergic peanut reaction.
If taken early enough, the activated charcoal acts on the peanut protein in the stomach and prevents the allergen from entering the bloodstream and causing the severe reaction.
"This provides us with another tool for treating the reaction. Even more than that, it is also a means of very effectively nipping in the bud the reactions when they are still at a very mild stage," said Dr. Vadas, director of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, where the discovery was made.
"It is not intended to replace the use of adrenaline in managing severe reaction, but it is an additional treatment."
Yesterday, two U.S. studies also offered hope in the fight against peanut allergy, which is believed to affect about 1.5 million people in North America.
One U.S. research team has discovered a vaccine that appears to stop peanut-allergic mice from having a reaction to the food.
Dr. Hugh Sampson, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, engineered bacteria to produce the three peanut proteins most associated with the allergy.
The proteins had been slightly altered so they would not attract the huge reaction by antibodies that is associated with an allergic attack.
The vaccine was given to mice with peanut allergy, and after three doses, the mice did not react when fed peanuts, Dr. Sampson's team reported.
"This particular vaccine, which could be adapted for human use, provides some hope that we may be able to treat peanut allergy in human patients and that we will no longer see symptoms," Dr. Sampson said.
Another U.S. team tested 80 children with peanut allergies and found that over time more than half outgrew their allergic reaction.
"Although we once thought peanut allergy was a lifelong problem, we now believe certain children, namely those with low levels of allergy antibodies, may outgrow it," said Dr. Robert Wood, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, who carried out the study.
Dr. Vadas said the vaccine would probably be more "definitive down the road," but activated charcoal provided a ready treatment.
"It's a simple approach; it's inexpensive; there are no side effects; and it's readily available," he said.
"Certain children, and adults for that matter, with peanut allergy will have fatal reactions despite optimal treatment. They'll get the best treatment and, in spite of that, they still don't respond and the reason they don't respond, in part, is because they still have ongoing absorption and no matter how effective the medications are, they are not going to reverse that reaction.
"I think this is a way of putting the brakes on the reaction in addition to all the other things we have."
The activated charcoal, which can be taken orally, acts by binding to allergy-causing proteins in peanuts.
Dr. Vadas carried out experiments in test tubes and with skin tests on people with peanut allergy.
The skin test involved applying a small peanut patch to the skin of a patient.
The patient typically had a small localized reaction to the patch. But when the patch was treated with activated charcoal there was no reaction.
"I would suggest that people with peanut allergy discuss this with their allergist. I'll certainly be recommending it to a certain subset of my patients that I think will benefit from it," Dr. Vadas said.
Laurie Harada, executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada, a not-for-profit organization that provides information on deadly allergies, said the developments were encouraging, but warned people they still needed to practice avoidance.
"There is a way to eat safely, but it's all about reading, reading, reading ingredients. It does not mean they should go out and eat things they might be allergic to.
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