Anyone who suffers from peanut allergies knows that this seemingly innocuous legume can cause a host of unpleasant and potentially deadly symptoms. A cure for this allergy has been slow in coming, but scientists have recently made a potential breakthrough in the study of peanut allergies.
Key Enzyme Found
National Jewish Health in Denver recently conducted an experiment on mice that focuses on what happens in the digestive system when peanuts are consumed. When mice with peanut allergies were fed peanuts, researchers noticed that levels of a particular enzyme increased. This enzyme, known as Pim-1 kinase, may hold the key to understanding this allergy.
Pim-1 plays "a crucial role in allergic reactions to peanuts," according to senior author of the study, Erwin Gelfand. When this enzyme was inhibited in the mice, the peanut allergy symptoms stopped.
This new finding is welcome news for those who suffer from peanut allergies. Nut allergies affect about 0.5% of the population, and new cases appear every year. People with nut allergies react strongly to nuts because their bodies mistake them for something harmful. Instead of enjoying a scoop of peanut butter, their bodies go into overdrive with a host of symptoms designed to cast the supposedly harmful substance out.
Symptoms of Nut Allergies
What are these symptoms? They vary from mild discomfort to potentially life-threatening problems. Hives, a stomach ache, a runny nose, and tingling in the lips are some of the milder reactions you may have. At the other end of the spectrum are vomiting, diarrhea, belly pain, coughing and wheezing. One of the most severe reactions is anaphylaxis. This response results in breathing problems, dizziness, low blood pressure and swelling in the throat. If left untreated, the symptoms of anaphylaxis can be deadly.
The main reason these symptoms occur during an allergy attack is because of the body’s response. Instead of identifying peanuts as benign, they are seen as a dangerous substance that must be eliminated at all costs. In response to this, the body releases a number of chemicals into the blood. Histamine is probably the most well known of these chemicals.
Once histamine is released into the body it causes reactions in different places. Those who are allergic to pollen in the spring and autumn are familiar with the itchy eyes and runny nose that this chemical can induce. Reactions in the skin, blood vessels and intestinal tract are also possible because of this chemical. This new research into peanut allergies can change that.
The Connection Between Pim-1 Kinase and Allergies
When the mice used in the experiment were given the enzyme inhibitor an interesting thing happened to their histamine levels – they dropped almost back to baseline. Blocking this enzyme reduced histamine, thus reducing the symptoms of allergy attack.
The connection between enzyme Pim-1 kinase and allergy symptoms is a big step towards finding a solution. Gelfand says that "targeting this novel ... axis involving Pim-1 kinase and Runx3 offers new therapeutic opportunities for the control of food-induced allergic reactions." While a complete cure will likely take some time to find, there is now hope for those who suffer from peanut allergies.
Hope for a future cure does not negate the need for diligence in the present. A peanut allergy can be deadly, especially if it goes undiagnosed. If you believe you or someone else may be suffering from such an allergy, it is crucial to get in touch with a doctor to have it checked out. Physicians have a number of ways to test for peanut allergies, including food elimination diets and other tests.
If you have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy it is important to take your symptoms seriously. This is especially true for children who may not understand the severity of their reactions. Make sure everyone in your family knows what to do should you or your child suffer from an attack. Having everyone on board will reduce the chances of a reaction becoming deadly.
Regardless of the severity of your peanut allergy, this recent research is good news. It opens up "promising new targets for the treatment of allergic reactions to peanuts, and possibly other foods," according to Gelfand. Use caution now, and in the future peanuts may no longer be a source of discomfort.