Tree nut and peanut allergies are some of the most common as well as some of the most commonly discussed food allergies. Without fail, every year we hear at least a handful of stories about those who are severely allergic coming in contact with and ultimately dying from food allergies. The standard way most deal with food allergies is with allergy shots (or another type of desensitization procedure) or strict avoidance. Yet neither is fullproof. A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are approaching this problem by not changing the person dealing with allergies but instead by changing the food.
_Allergy-free peanuts? While it may seem a bit farfetched, this is just what they are working on. Started with a cashew extract (oil), researchers are treating the proteins found in the oil with heat and sodium sulfite. You may recognize sodium sulfite, as it's a preservative commonly found in a variety of foods. What this process does is change the molecular look of reaction-causing protein in the cashew, making it more difficult for immunoglobin (IgE – the antibody that kicks off your body's response, aka, allergic reaction) to recognize and bind with the protein.
_Test results showed that when mixing unmodified and modified cashew proteins with the IgE of a nut allergic person, 50% fewer of the IgE molecules bonded with the altered proteins. This is important for a few reasons. Even though this isn't the first experiment to attempt this, it is the first that uses a compound generally regarded as safe (GRAS) to disrupt the protein structure of the allergen. It is also important because unlike other treatments, it is aimed at treating the food, not the person. Lastly, its success shows the potential for reducing or possibly even eliminating the binding of IgE to food allergens, the root of the allergic response.
For now results show a allergy-reduced nut, which isn't as helpful a non-allergenic one. However, these results at least point towards the possibility of this as a solution. What's up next for researchers? Modifying whole cashews then ensuring the cashews still taste they way they should! Until then, avoidance remains the best option for most dealing with severe food allergies.
To read the full abstract of the research.
For more information on food allergies.
Author: K. Gilmore