If you’ve ever known a friend or family member with a peanut allergy, you understand the care and awareness that’s necessary to prevent a serious issue. Peanuts are the most common cause of food-related death, and affect over three million people in the United States alone.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine has shown that feeding peanuts to infants that are at high risk of developing a peanut allergy, can significantly reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy as they age.
By 2008, many studies showed no evidence to support the claim that elimination of allergens from a diet helped in preventing the development of food allergies, causing the American Academy of Pediatrics to revise its stance on the topic. Since then, it has been unclear as to whether early exposure of the allergen might be an effective measure to prevent the allergy. This study is a big step in providing answers to this question.
About 500 Infants between 4 and 11 months old who were determined to be at high-risk for a peanut allergy were randomly split into consumption and avoidance groups. A skin-prick test was given at the beginning of the study to analyze how sensitive to peanuts the infants already were. Many showed no sensitivity had developed yet, while many had a mild sensitivity. Those whose sensitivity was too high were excluded from the study for fear of an extreme reaction.
At 5 years old, the children were retested to find out if the peanut allergy was present. In the avoidance group, 17.2 percent of the children had an allergy, while the consumption group tested with only 3.2 percent.
Among those who had shown a sensitivity at the outset, 35.3 percent had an allergy at the end of the study from the avoidance group, while only 10.6 percent demonstrated an allergy in the consumption group. For those with no sensitivity from the beginning, the numbers were 13.7 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.
The authors of the study realize that this is a very significant finding, but not conclusive enough to provide a clear-cut guideline to all parents for preventing an allergy. Questions remain over the amount, frequency and consistency of peanut consumption depending on the case. From the journal’s editorial piece: “These questions must be addressed, but we believe that because the results of this trial are so compelling, and the problem of the increasing prevalence of peanut allergy so alarming, new guidelines should be forthcoming very soon.”
As food allergies have become a more serious issue over the past decade, these findings are a significant step forward; the hope is that this study is useful as a stepping stone for further research.