Peanut allergy treatment – progress or a false inference?


In addition to news from FAAN, FAI, and KFA, we rely on food allergy news alerts we assembled on Google. It has been insightful to see the stories that pass the filters in these alerts.

Three types of stories regularly recur.

1) News about how the number of people with food allergies is growing

2) News about how many, if not most people who think they have food allergies really don’t

3) Progress in immunizing the food allergic against reactions, typically done by having them ingest small amounts of the allergen in question and increasing the amount they ingest over time

It’s easy to imagine how the first two items are related. Of course if the number of people who believe they have food allergies is growing but most of them really don’t have them, that could explain both #1 and #2. But what about #3?

This morning the news alerts were full of this study out of Cambridge:

Peanut allergy cracked – according to new research

As is the case with news of any medical breakthrough, I’m hopeful, but I wonder.

The story reports that the study entailed 22 children with a peanut allergy. “After treatment, 19 of 22 children were able to eat five peanuts a day; two had partial success – eating two to three peanuts a day; and one dropped out of the study at the start.”

22 doesn’t seem like a big group to me. And if this study was undertaken in 2009, before the latest guidelines came out on diagnosing food allergies, how confident can we be that all 22 really had a peanut allergy? I don’t know whether the UK is afflicted with an inflated population of patients who believe they have food allergies, but let’s say they’re just as misdiagnosed as Americans. If, as the expert Gina Kolata interviewed believes, 3 times as many people believe they have food allergies than who really have them, is it possible that only about 7 of these patients really had a peanut allergy, and the 2 with only partial success and the 1 drop- out were among them? Just wondering.

It sure would be great if such methods or others ultimately prove successful.


About Tom

Tom Anichini owns Egg-Free Epicurean along with his wife, Amy Jones Anichini, who founded the business in 2009. Tom is an actuary and an investment professional. He holds an MBA in Finance from the Chicago Booth School of Business and a BS in Actuarial Science from the University of Illinois. He is also a CFA charter holder and an Associate of the Society of Actuaries. He lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters.
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