The peanut allergy is one of the most sensitive and dangerous of all food allergies. Just exposure to peanut dust can quickly turn deadly from airways swelling shut. But a new study shows an 80% decline in peanut allergy just by exposing babies before the age of 1.
The researcher gave regular doses of peanut butter paste to infants under 11 months old, that were already at a high risk for a peanut allergy. Their risk level was assessed by already having suffered from eczema or egg allergy.
They continued to monitor the same children for another year and found that the protection lasts, even when the exposure to peanuts had stopped.
Allergies often present themselves after a prolonged absence of exposure, making the one year follow-up exciting news. Overall, they saw a 74 percent decline in allergies compared to babies that had avoided foods their entire lives.
“[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting,” lead researcher Gideon Lack from King’s College London in the UK, told BBC News.
“I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance.”
In a standard experiment set-up, the researchers took 600 babies that had shown signs of being allergy prone and split them into two groups. Group one avoided peanuts altogether, while group 2 was given small daily doses of peanut mushed with other foods.
5 years later, 17 percent of group 1 (avoidance) had developed peanut allergies while only 3.2 percent had developed a peanut allergy in group 2 (exposure.)
But this still didn’t answer the question if a prolonged lack of exposure would create a new manifestation of peanut allergies.
To answer this question the researchers continued to follow 550 of the original children and all were to avoid peanuts entirely for the next year. At the end of the year, year 6 for the study the rate of peanut allergies did not change between the groups.
Interestingly, 3 participants from each of the groups developed new peanut allergies.
“A 12-month period of peanut avoidance was not associated with an increase in the prevalence of peanut allergy,” the authors write in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“This new study is great because … it looks like the benefit [of early exposure] is essentially permanent,” Scott Sicherer, a paediatric immunologist and allergy specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who wasn’t involved in the study,told NPR.
Lack recommends that parents with kids already showing signs of allergies “consult with an allergist, paediatrician, or their general practitioner prior to feeding them peanut products”. But he encourages other parents not to be scared of giving their kids a taste of peanuts.