While science still doesn't truly know why some people are allergic to things and other people aren't, they have found out a way to try to avoid peanut allergies. According to research, babies who eat peanuts within the first 11 months of their lives are less likely to have peanut allergies later in life, even if they stop eating them for a long time.
The study, entitled Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP-on Study), checked approximately 600 children for peanut allergies. In this study, half of the children avoided eating peanuts and the other half were advised to eat peanuts during the first year of their lives.
Of those children who avoided eating peanuts, 35% tested positive for a peanut allergy with a skin prick test, while those who were instructed to eat peanuts tested positive 11% of the time.
The results of the study were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers examined 556 children involved in the LEAP study to see if there were effects of avoiding peanuts for a year later on in life.
Researchers had both groups stop eating anything with peanuts in it for a year, starting at age 5. About 18.6% of those who avoided peanuts and 4.8% of the peanut-consuming group showed an allergy to peanuts at the start of the next study.
"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," Professor Gideon Lack, who is the lead author of the study and head of pediatric allergy at King's College London and the head of the Children's Allergy Service at Guy's and St. Thomas' National Health Service Foundation Trust, said.
"LEAP-on clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting," he said.
The study authors found that there hasn't been an increase in the number of children who have developed a peanut allergy after avoiding the nuts. Three children from each group developed a peanut allergy.
Of course, there is still more work needed.
"We need more research to better understand the mechanisms behind the development and prevention of allergic responses to peanut, and how this might translate to other food allergies," Dr. George Du Toit, co-investigator of the study and consultant in pediatric allergy at Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said in a statement.
"However, it is reassuring that the highly protective intervention demonstrated in LEAP was not only safe, nutritionally favorable and acceptable to participant families but also sustained even with cessation of peanut consumption for 12 months," he said.
Peanut allergies have been a growing problem, perhaps because mothers are told to avoid giving their children peanuts in the first few years of life.
Peanut allergy has been a growing problem in the U.S., according to the American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.
Dr. Lolita McDavid, a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, commended the studies, and thinks there is more to learn.
"Why these studies are important is the global allergy to peanuts has been growing," McDavid said. "This was not seen in the past. There are a lot of cultures where peanut is a staple in the diet."
Parents who want to desensitize high-risk children to peanuts should talk to a doctor so that children don't have a dangerous reaction to eating peanuts, she said.
"Talk to a pediatric allergist and they can do a skin prick test and you can find out whether they’re allergic or not," McDavid said.
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Exposure to peanuts in high risk children or those with signs of peanut allergies needs "to be done under a doctor’s supervision. You have to have an epipen available."