A new study, involving hundreds of infants at high risk for peanut allergies, has shown that exposure to peanuts early in their life will protect them from peanut allergies as they get older. Published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 640 infants from Evelina London Children’s Hospital took part in a five-year trial called LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy).
The infants involved were between 4 and 11 months of age and either suffered from severe eczema, egg allergy or both. The significance of the eczema and egg allergies in the study is that they both act as high-risk warning signs for developing a peanut allergy. The infants were randomly assigned into a peanut consumption group or avoidance group. Each child was given a skin-prick test before being assigned to a group.
Those who yielded a positive skin-prick test were given 3.9 grams of peanut protein in incremental doses. If they showed no signs of reaction toward the dosage, it was increased to 6 grams a week (spread over three meals) until the infants reached 5 years of age.
At the end of the study, less than 1 percent of the peanut group had developed a peanut allergy. In the other peanut-free group, 17.3 percent of the kids developed an allergy to peanuts.
“For a study to show a benefit of this magnitude in the prevention of peanut allergy is without precedent,” said Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in a statement.
The kids will be monitored through the next year to see if they stay protected against the allergy even when no longer consuming the peanut protein.