Date Published: 24 February 2015
Eating peanut during infancy can prevent development of peanut allergy
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Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. It now thought to affect approx. 2% of school age children in the UK, has more than doubled in the UK and North America during the past 10 years.
One of the reasons why peanut allergies are of such great concern is that they can cause a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction in sufferers which is known as anaphylaxis. Current medical opinion is that peanut allergy is rarely outgrown and there is no medically approved cure for this condition, which develops early in life.
Medics based at Southampton University (England, UK) have been working within a team of scientific researchers who have recently discovered that introducing peanut into an infant's diet within the first 11 months of life can prevent peanut allergy in those at high risk.
The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, led by Professor Gideon Lack of King's College London, is the first to show that such consumption is an effective strategy to prevent food allergy. It enrolled 640 children aged between 4 and 11 months old who were considered at high risk of developing peanut allergy due to pre-existing severe eczema and / or egg allergy. Half of the children taking part in the study were asked to eat peanut-containing foods three or more times a week while the other half were asked to avoid eating peanut until five years of age.
The findings of the LEAP study were that less than 1% of children who consumed peanut and completed the study developed peanut allergy by five years of age, wheras 17.3% of the children in the avoidance group did develop a peanut allergy.
Prof. Graham Roberts, a professor of allergy and respiratory medicine at Southampton University, said:
" For many years, guidelines and paediatricians have recommended that infants avoid peanut.
_ 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."
However, the study excluded infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy so Professor Lack, head of the department of paediatric allergy at King's College, cautioned that the safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study, stating that:
" Parents of infants and young children with eczema and / or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, paediatrician, or their GP prior to feeding them peanut products."
The next stage of work on this project will involve continuing to monitor the children who consumed peanut to see if they remain protected against allergy even if they stop consuming peanut for 12 months. This continuation of the research will help by finding out if it seems that the protection provided against the development of peanut allergy is sustained and not dependent on ongoing peanut ingestion.