HEALTH

Introducing infants to peanuts can help prevent allergy later, study finds

Regularly feeding peanuts to children from infancy to age five reduced the rate of peanut allergy in their teenage years by 71%, according to a new study.

Published this week in the journal NEJM Evidence, the study found that early, consistent peanut consumption provided “lasting tolerance” to peanuts, even if the participants stopped eating them later.

This study extends a previous randomized, controlled trial where one group of participants consumed peanuts regularly from infancy to age five, while the other group avoided them.

The initial trial revealed that early peanut introduction “significantly decreased” the prevalence of peanut allergy among children at high risk, reducing their risk by 81% at age five.

Researchers followed up with participants when they were aged six to 12 or older. They found that those who consumed peanuts early on had a 71% lower risk of developing a peanut allergy in adolescence compared to those who avoided peanuts.

“Decades of advice to avoid peanuts has made parents fearful of introducing them at an early age,” said Gideon Lack, lead investigator and professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London. “The evidence is clear that early introduction of peanut in infancy induces long-term tolerance and protects children from allergy well into adolescence.”

Peanut Allergies on the Rise

Peanuts are a common cause of food allergies. A 2023 study estimated the prevalence of peanut allergy in Europe to be around 1.5%. The allergy can be life-threatening.

“Food allergies are on the rise in the UK, particularly among children,” said Amena Warner, Head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK. She added that the study offers “hope to future generations that the prevalence of peanut allergy can be reduced,” emphasizing the importance of research into the causes of food allergies.

“Peanut allergy can be especially challenging to live with. We know from the many people we support that the fear of having a fatal allergic reaction to peanuts cannot really be understood by those who do not have a food allergy,” Warner said.

Co-lead investigator George Du Toit, also from King’s College London, suggested introducing peanuts as early as four months of age. “The infant needs to be developmentally ready to start weaning, and peanuts should be introduced as a soft pureed paste or as peanut puffs,” he said.

The study was co-funded in part by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

NIAID Director Jeanne Marrazzo stated that the findings “should reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ confidence that feeding their young children peanut products beginning in infancy according to established guidelines can provide lasting protection from peanut allergy.”

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