A study published in the February 26, 2015 New England Journal of Medicine indicates that early introduction of peanuts significantly decreases allergy development in some children. This could potentially lead to prevention of children forming peanut allergy at a later age.
Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a normally harmless food as if it were a threat. Typical symptoms of a food allergy can include upset stomach, diarrhea, hives, itching, and in extreme cases, tightening of the throat and trouble breathing. Peanuts are one of the most common sources of allergic symptoms. Peanut allergy develops early in life, is not often outgrown, and is the number one cause of death in the USA due to food allergy.
The study exposed infants, ages 4-10 months, with high risk to peanut allergy. Text of the study indicated “participants were infants already having illnesses associated with developing peanut allergy, excluding those with stronger positive peanut allergy tests.”[x_pullquote type=”right”]Peanut allergy develops early in life, is not often outgrown, and is the number one cause of death in the USA due to food allergy.[/x_pullquote]Authors of the study had previously observed that the rate of peanut allergy was 10x higher among Jewish children in the UK where peanuts are normally not eaten in the first year of life, compared with children in Israel who routinely eat peanuts. The research team theorized that routine exposure to peanuts in the child’s diet might help protect against the child developing peanut allergy in the future.
The researchers followed more than 600 infants ages 4 to 10 months who were considered high risk of development of peanut allergy because they have previous display egg allergy and/or severe eczema (an allergic skin condition). Infants were assigned to either avoid peanut completely or to regularly consume at least 6 grams of peanut protein per week. The regimen was closely monitoring with recurring clinic visits and telephone calls until the participants were 60 months of age.
At five years old, the participants were tested for peanut allergy. The allergy was present in 17.2 percent of children who had avoided peanuts, but in only 3.2 percent of the children who had consumed peanut protein in their first year.
This represents an 81 percent reduction of peanut allergy in children who frequently ate peanuts beginning in infancy. Results this significant have the potential to alter how we approach food allergy prevention.