It sounds nutty, but British researchers have discovered that feeding peanuts to young children considered to be at risk of an allergy could well be the key to preventing it.
“For a study to show a benefit of this magnitude in the prevention of peanut allergy is without precedent,” says Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who supported the research. “The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention."
Researchers noticed that children growing up in Israel eat peanuts from an early age and have very low rates of allergy to it. This prompted a joint study by King’s College London and the National Institutes of Health to find a potential link.
The study involved 640 infants under 1 year of age, all considered at high risk of developing a nut allergy because they had severe eczema, an egg allergy or both. They were split into two groups: One received peanut butter or peanut snacks three times a week, while the others avoided it completely.
At age 5, less than 1 percent of the kids who had eaten peanuts regularly became allergic to them, compared to 17.5 percent for the other group, according to the results published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Additionally, the researchers wrote that after more than four years of regular contact with peanuts, the risk of developing an allergy fell by 81 percent.
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However, lead author Dr. Gideon Lack advises against conducting your own version of this experiment at home, explaining, "The safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study." Parents of infants with eczema or an egg allergy should consult an allergist or pediatrician prior to feeding them peanut products.