Peanuts for babies? Studies back allergy-preventing strategy

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“The LEAP-ON findings exceeded our expectations and demonstrated that the early consumption of peanuts provided stable and sustained protection against the development of peanut allergy in children at greatest risk for this allergy”. According to researchers, only 1.9% of children in the group who were fed peanuts have shown allergies, compared to 13.7% on the avoidance group. Israeli children typically start consuming peanut-containing foods, including this snack made from peanuts and puffed corn, early in life.

The trial, called LEAP-On, was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and conducted by the NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network (link is external) (ITN).
Professor Katie Allen, Director of the Centre for Food Allergy Research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, comments on these reports from the New England Journal of Medicine.
The LEAP-On study is an extension of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study.
Lack and his team enrolled over 500 children from the original study – half of whom had been eating peanuts regularly and half not – and instructed all of their caregivers to avoid feeding them peanuts for the 12 months after the initial five-year study period. And the kids eating peanuts had 81 per cent fewer peanut allergies than those who didn’t eat them.
Keep in mind, peanut allergies have been steadily on the rise in recent decades. During follow-up, all of the children were asked to avoid peanuts for a year.
“Overall, after the introduction of peanuts in the first year of life, peanut consumption for the following 4 years, and a year of abstinence from peanuts, the peanut-consumption group had a prevalence of peanut allergy that was 74 percent lower than the prevalence in the peanut-avoidance group”, the authors of the latest NEJM study wrote, “a finding that shows unresponsiveness to peanut after a long period of peanut avoidance”. The recommendations include giving at-risk kids peanut-containing food as early as 4- to 6-months of age.
The intention to treat analysis found the proportion of children with peanut allergy at the age of six was significantly higher in the peanut avoidance group (18.6%) than the consumption group (4.8%).
“The aim of our study was to find out whether infants who had consumed peanut in the LEAP study would remain protected against peanut allergy after they stopped eating peanut for 12 months”. The scientists had parents fill out questionnaires and they collected dust samples from kids’ beds to test for peanut proteins to make sure the participants were adhering to the rules. After a year off, an additional three kids in both groups tested positive for peanut allergies.
“This protective effect occurred irrespective of whether the children completely avoided peanut for one year or continued to eat it sporadically”, he says. But it’s possible some parents stopped giving solid foods because they noticed allergy-like symptoms, which may have included false alarms, said Dr. Gideon Lack, a King’s College London researcher who led all three studies.