Peanut a day to keep the allergy away

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They’ll be able to eat one peanut M&M every day for the rest of their lives.

A new allergy program at St.  Joseph’s Health Care London is feeding small doses of peanut flour to kids who have previously avoided any trace of the nut.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, it’s actually a way to treat their peanut allergies.

As kids take in more peanut protein each month, the body gains a tolerance for the very thing it used to reject.

“They can have a much more normal life in terms of not having to be fearful about eating trace amounts of peanut here and there,” Dr. Harold Kim said. “Their quality of life improves.”

Kim is medical director of the allergy and immunology program at the hospital, where a peanut school is graduating allergy sufferers who no longer have to worry about a peanut butter sandwich in a lunch bag across the room.

It starts small, with patients consuming about 1/500 of a peanut.

“We’re giving little flakes of ­peanut, literally, when you start,” Kim said.

But after about a year, graduates work their way up to one peanut a day.

Colin Labrie, 12, of Kitchener, holds envelopes containing a small amount of peanut flour mixed with oat flour at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London with Dr. Harold Kim. Labrie is taking part in a program at the hospital where patients who are allergic to peanuts consume a small amount of peanut flour every day to build up immunity. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

A treatment that ends with ­chocolate-coated candies may sound like fun, but the allergy treatment comes with a lot of ­anxiety for kids and parents who are used to dealing with the near-constant threat of a reaction.

Colin Labrie, 12, was just a baby when he had his first allergic reaction, his dad said.

“His face swelled, and he was ­falling asleep,” Mike Labrie said. Colin was only 11 months old when he ate that peanut butter sandwich.

Now, Colin’s able to tolerate 300 milligrams of peanut flour at a time. Every day, he mixes a tiny envelope of peanut flour into pudding or an applesauce cup.

The first taste was a little scary.

“I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to think,” Colin said. “Was I going to have a reaction or not?”

So far, no one has had a reaction, Kim said. One person already graduated from the treatment, called oral immunotherapy, and another 19 are making their way through the peanut program. It’s not for kids who have had a very severe and life-threatening reaction, he cautions, and no one should try to “build tolerance” to peanuts at home.

Immunotherapy also is not a cure. If Colin stops taking his M&Ms after the treatment ends, he could begin to react to peanut protein again.

Kim said it’s pretty incredible to see kids and teens build tolerance to peanuts — often a food they’ve avoided for years.

“A lot of these kids have really, really severe allergies, so this is important for them,” he said.

“The improvement and the level of true happiness that some of these people have is amazing. It is rewarding.”

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