WEDNESDAY, Nov. 5, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Consuming increasingly higher doses of powdered milk may help children with milk allergies overcome their condition, a new study suggests.
In the double-blinded, placebo-controlled study of milk immunotherapy, all 12 children receiving milk powder daily significantly increased their tolerance of milk after four months, from no more than 40 milligrams to at least 2,540 milligrams (2.5 ounces). Meanwhile, the seven children receiving a placebo powder showed no improvement.
The findings were published in the Oct. 28 print edition of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Duke University.
"Our findings suggest that oral immunotherapy gradually retrains the immune system to completely disregard or to better tolerate the allergens in milk that previously caused allergic reactions," study senior investigator Dr. Robert Wood, director of Allergy and Immunology at Hopkins Children's, said in a hospital news release. "Albeit preliminary and requiring further study, these results suggest that oral immunotherapy may be the closest thing yet to a true treatment for food allergy."
Children regularly consuming milk powder had more milk antibodies in their blood, and were better able to tolerate milk than those on the placebo. As a result, the researchers recommended that these children continue consuming milk daily to maintain and further build their resistance.
The researchers aren't sure what would happen if the children stopped consuming milk regularly. "It may very well be that this tolerance is lost once the immune system is no longer exposed to the allergen daily," Wood said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that food allergies in children have risen 18 percent in the last decade, with 3 million children in the United States having at least one food allergy. Being allergic to milk is the most prevalent one.
Most food allergies are managed through simple avoidance of the trigger foods in hope that the child will outgrow the allergy.
"Given that the quality of life of a child with a food allergy is comparable to the quality of life of a child with diabetes, we urgently need therapies that go beyond strict food avoidance or waiting for the child to outgrow the allergy," Wood said.
Wood said further research is necessary, so parents and caregivers should not try oral immunotherapy without medical supervision.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has more about managing food allergies.