The best way to protect kids from peanut allergies may be to feed them foods that contain peanuts when they’re babies. But will wary parents trust that advice?
Peanut allergies, one of the most common food allergies, have more than doubled in the UK and North America over the past 10 years.
The allergy, which develops early in life, can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Peanut allergies are rarely outgrown and there is currently no cure.
For the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, researchers enrolled 640 children aged four to 11 months who were considered at high risk of developing peanut allergy due to pre-existing severe eczema and/or egg allergy.
Half of the children ate peanut-containing foods three or more times a week and the other half avoided eating peanut products until five years of age.
The findings show that less than 1 percent of children who consumed peanut and completed the study developed peanut allergy by five years of age compared to 17.3 percent in the avoidance group.
The overall prevalence of allergy in all children asked to consume peanut—including those participants who were unable to tolerate peanut consumption—was 3.2 percent versus 17.2 percent in the avoidance group—an 80 percent reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy.
“For many years, guidelines and pediatricians have recommended that infants avoid peanut,” says Graham Roberts, professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton.
“However, this study shows that early, sustained consumption of peanut is safe and results in a substantial and significant reduction in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants by five years of age. As a result, this questions whether children should be deliberately avoiding peanut in the first year of life to prevent allergy.”
“This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines,” says Gideon Lack, head of the department of pediatric allergy at King’s College and lead author of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Whilst these were withdrawn in 2008 in the UK and US, our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children.”
Because the study excludes infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy, the safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study, the researchers say.
“Parents of infants and young children with eczema and/or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, pediatrician, or their GP prior to feeding them peanut products,” he says.
“The next stage of our work, the LEAP-On study, will continue to monitor those children who consumed peanut to see if they remain protected against allergy even if they stop consuming peanut for 12 months.
The LEAP-On study will help establish if the protection provided against the development of peanut allergy is sustained and not dependent on ongoing peanut ingestion.”
Source: University of Southampton