Feeding children peanuts reduces allergy risk by 71pc

Feeding children peanuts reduces allergy risk by 71pc
Feeding children peanuts reduces allergy risk by 71pc

Feeding peanuts to children lowers the risk of developing an allergy by 71 per cent, scientists have found.

Experts at King’s College London said that decades of poor advice, warning against introducing peanuts early in life, had made parents fearful and fuelled the rise in allergies.

They predicted that peanut allergies would “plummet” if parents included the food in their babies’ diet from infancy.

It follows a study of more than 500 children that found the introduction of peanuts reduced the risk of an allergy at adolescence by 71 per cent even if the child had given up peanuts after the age of five.

Early introduction of peanuts could prevent more than 100,000 new cases of allergy worldwide each year, and 10,000 in Britain, the researchers forecast.

‘A simple intervention’

Gideon Lack, a professor in paediatric allergy from King’s College London who led the investigation, said: “Decades of advice to avoid peanuts has made parents fearful of introducing peanuts at an early age.

“The evidence is clear that early introduction of peanut in infancy induces long term tolerance and protects children from allergy well into adolescence.

“This simple intervention will make a remarkable difference to future generations and see peanut allergies plummet.”

In 1998, the committee on toxicity, which advises the Food Standards Agency, carried out a review and concluded that children under three should not be given peanuts.

It spooked parents into removing the nut from their children’s diet, meaning children’s immune systems were not primed, which caused a rise in deadly anaphylaxis.

Following the guidance, the prevalence of peanut allergy has increased dramatically, rising over the past two decades with one in 50 people now affected.

In the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (Leap) trial, half of the participants were asked to regularly consume peanut products from infancy until the age of five, while the other half were asked to avoid peanuts during that period.

Researchers found that early introduction of peanuts reduced the risk of an allergy at age five by 81 per cent.

The investigators followed up on both groups from age six to 12 or older. In that period, children could choose to eat peanuts in whatever amount and frequency they wanted.

They found that 15.4 per cent of participants from the early childhood peanut-avoidance group developed an allergy, but just 4.4 per cent from the early childhood peanut-consumption group had an allergy at age 12 or older.

‘Food allergies on the rise’

Prof George Du Toit, the co-lead investigator from King’s College London said: “This is a safe and highly effective intervention which can be implemented as early as four months of age.

“The infant needs to be developmentally ready to start weaning and peanut should be introduced as a soft pureed paste or as peanut puffs.”

Charities welcomed the findings and said there was a possibility that future generations could be free from the physical and mental trauma of suffering from allergies.

Amena Warner, the head of clinical services at Allergy UK said: “Right now, food allergies are on the rise in the UK and incidence is growing among children. That’s why Allergy UK welcomes the results of this study as it provides such hope to future generations that the prevalence of peanut allergy can be reduced.

“The importance of research into the causes of food allergy which provide a breakthrough on how to stem the rise of food allergies, cannot be overstated. For far too long the food allergic community has had little more than hope that the causes of food allergy and how to minimise or eliminate the risks would be better understood.

“However, this Leap-trio study and its findings, suggest that there really is a possibility for future generations to be free from food allergies and the associated quality of life and mental health and wellbeing impacts.

“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 peanut cannot really be understood by those who do not have food allergy.”

The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine: Evidence.