Several teams of researchers are currently working on treatments for food allergies, including herbal concoctions, protein powders, and other alternative treatments. While these experimental therapies have already helped many children who have severe food allergies, are they ready for the millions of people who have food allergies? These potential therapies are moving quickly through the clinical trial stage. Some may even be ready for FDA evaluation in the next year.

Shots for seasonal airborne allergens have been available for decades now, but similar treatment for food allergies has lagged behind. The path to FDA approval for such therapies was slowed further after a child enrolled in a clinical trial for injectable peanut treatments had a severe reaction and died. The death made many researchers wary of studying peanut allergy therapies. But the rising number of people with food allergies has ignited interest in the field once again, and research has turned to oral therapies or drops to be placed under the tongue. The goal is to help the immune system adjust over time to the presence of small doses of peanut protein. “With the repeated administration of the dosing, your immune system begins to change,” explains Wesley Burks, the chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University. After several months, many of those enrolled in the studies are able to tolerate a peanut without suffering an allergic reaction.

According to Robert Wood, chief of Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, these oral therapies hold the most promise. However, even the smallest dose of oral treatment may prompt side effects such as an upset stomach, hives, or more severe allergic reactions, with such side effects significant enough to make 10 to 20 percent of people drop out of the trials.

For now, these food allergy therapies remain in the research stage. Though early results are promising, more work must be done. As much as parents are eager to get their children desensitized to allergen, the therapies aren’t quite ready for clinical practice. Yet if the trials continue to go well, some of the therapies may be FDA approved as early as 2012.

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