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Introducing infants to peanuts can help prevent allergy later, study finds

Introducing peanuts to infants may significantly reduce the likelihood of developing peanut allergies in adolescence, according to new research.

A study published in the journal NEJM Evidence found that regularly feeding peanuts to children from infancy until age five reduced the rate of peanut allergies by 71% when they reached their teenage years. This research builds on an earlier study showing that early peanut consumption leads to lasting tolerance, even if the children stop eating peanuts later on.

The initial randomized controlled trial involved two groups: one that consumed peanuts regularly from infancy to age five and another that avoided peanuts altogether. The first part of the trial revealed that early peanut introduction decreased the incidence of peanut allergies by 81% among high-risk children by the time they were five years old.

Researchers then followed the participants until they were between six and 12 years old or older. They found that the group with early peanut exposure maintained a 71% lower risk of developing peanut allergies in adolescence compared to those who avoided peanuts.

“Decades of advice to avoid peanuts has made parents fearful of introducing peanuts at an early age,” said Gideon Lack, lead investigator and professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London. “The evidence is clear that early introduction of peanuts in infancy induces long-term tolerance and protects children from allergy well into adolescence.”

Rising Peanut Allergies

Peanut allergies are increasingly common, with a 2023 study estimating that around 1.5% of people in Europe have a peanut allergy. These allergies can be life-threatening. “Food allergies are on the rise in the UK, especially among children,” noted Amena Warner, Head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK. Warner emphasized the importance of this research, which offers hope that early peanut introduction could reduce peanut allergy prevalence in future generations.

Peanut allergies can be particularly challenging, with the constant fear of a potentially fatal reaction. “We know from those we support that the fear of having a fatal allergic reaction to peanut cannot really be understood by those who do not have food allergies,” Warner added.

Co-lead investigator George Du Toit from King’s College London suggested that peanuts can be introduced as early as four months of age, provided the infant is developmentally ready. “Peanut should be introduced as a soft pureed paste or as peanut puffs,” he advised.

The study received partial funding from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). NIAID Director Jeanne Marrazzo stated that the findings “should reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ confidence that feeding their young children peanut products beginning in infancy according to established guidelines can provide lasting protection from peanut allergy.”

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