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Polyphenols could lead to allergen-free peanut butter: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 31-Mar-2009
Last updated on 07-Apr-2009 at 12:17 GMT

Adding polyphenols compounds to liquid peanut butter may reduce the level of proteins in the product responsible for peanut allergy, suggests a new study.

Adding caffeic, chlorogenic and ferulic acids to liquid peanut butter could reduce the levels of major peanut allergens, Ara h 1 and Ara h 2, according to findings published in the journal Food Chemistry.

Si-Yin Chung and Elaine Champagne from the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service wrote that, while the binding of he major soluble peanut allergens was achieved in this study, such peanut-based products are far from hitting supermarket shelves.

“If proven by clinical studies, the research may lead to the development of less allergenic liquid peanut-based products,” they wrote. “However, this would be not ready for general use for many years until the allergy problem is better understood.

“The mainstay of therapy for IgE-mediated peanut allergy remains avoidance of the offending foods and following the guidelines of food allergy management.”

Peanut allergy

Peanut allergies are rising in humans, with an estimated 2.5 million people in Europe and the US now vulnerable to the food allergy.

There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.

Current recommendations in many countries, such as the UK and the US, for would-be mothers are to avoid peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and infancy.

With peanut allergy potentially fatal for some people, food manufacturers are already bound by certain regulations, depending on the country, to highlight possible allergens in a food product, such as the EU’s Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC.

Polyphenol potential

The ARS scientists treated peanut protein extracts and liquid peanut butter with caffeic, chlorogenic and ferulic acids. The polyphenols irreversibly formed insoluble complexes and was linked to reduced levels of the soluble major peanut allergens.

“As a result of the complexation, IgE binding of the extracts and liquid peanut butter was reduced approximately 10- to 16-fold,” wrote Chung and Champagne. IgE (immunoglobulin E) is the predominant antibody associated with an allergic response.

“We concluded that reducing IgE binding by phenolics is feasible,” they added.

When is a peanut not a peanut?

“Producing an allergen-free peanut or peanut product may seem to be the best approach to treat peanut allergy,” said the researchers. “However, such an approach may be impractical because […] altering enough of the peanut allergens to make a modified peanut (or peanut product) that is less likely to cause an allergic reaction may result in a plant or product that is no longer a peanut.”

They note a removal of certain proteins would have a detrimental effect on both the nutritional value and the flavour of the peanut. “With a lack of peanut flavour and nutritional value, the modified (allergen-free) peanut or peanut product is unlikely to be welcome by consumers,” they added.

Other avenues

Recently, scientists from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge reported results from a study with four peanut-allergic children found that gradually increasing their exposure to peanut protein, the tolerance level of all the children could be increased to about 800 mg grams of protein, which is the equivalent to five peanuts, per day (Allergy, doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.01982.x).

Source: Food Chemistry Volume 115, Pages 1345-1349"Reducing the allergenic capacity of peanut extracts and liquid peanut butter by phenolic compounds" Authors: Si-Yin Chung, Elaine T. Champagne

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