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Exposing young children to peanuts early cuts allergy risk

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The consumption of foodstuffs containing peanuts early in life can provide protection from developing allergies later, according to UK researchers.

They found the majority of infants at high-risk of developing peanut allergy were protected from peanut allergy at age five years if they ate peanut frequently, starting within the first 11 months of life.

“Our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children”

Gideon Lack

The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study, led by researchers from King’s College London, is the first to show that consumption is an effective strategy to prevent food allergy, contradicting previous recommendations.

Peanut allergy now affects up to one in 50 school age children in the UK, and its occurrence has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

The LEAP trial involved 640 children aged 4-11 months from Evelina London Children’s Hospital, who were considered at high-risk of developing peanut allergy.

Half of the children were asked to eat peanut-containing foods three or more times each week, and the other half to avoid eating peanut until five years of age.

Adherence to peanut consumption or avoidance advice was assessed using regular questionnaires and by measuring peanut levels in the child’s home environment.

Less than 1% of children who strictly followed the study protocols on consuming peanut developed a peanut allergy by five years of age, compared with 17.3% in the avoidance group.

Meanwhile, the overall prevalence of allergy in all children asked to consume peanut was 3.2% versus 17.2% in the avoidance group – representing a greater than 80% reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy.

Importantly, the early introduction of peanut-containing foods was found to be safe and well tolerated – infants were not fed whole peanuts which carry a risk of choking in young children, said the study authors.

Early, sustained consumption of peanut is safe and associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants by the age of five, they concluded in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Professor Gideon Lack, who led the study, said: “This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines.

“Our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children,” he said.

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