MIAMI: Feeding infants small amounts of mashed-up peanuts early in life may help them avoid developing allergies, even if they stop eating peanuts for a year in early childhood, researchers said Friday (Saturday in Manila).
The findings in the New England Journal of Medicine prompted global health authorities to reconsider long-held advice that babies should avoid certain foods, amid a rise in potentially fatal peanut allergies among youths in recent years.
“The early introduction of peanut to the diets of infants at high-risk of developing peanut allergy significantly reduces the risk of peanut allergy until six years of age, even if they stop eating peanut around the age of five,” said the study, led by King’s College London.
The findings offer a follow-up to groundbreaking results announced last year from a study known as the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial, which included more than 600 children.
It found that high-risk babies who ate peanuts by age 11 months experienced a substantially lower rate of peanut allergy by age five than infants who avoided peanuts.
The latest study, called LEAP-On, includes evidence gleaned from following 550 children age five to six, some of whom stopped eating peanuts, while others carried on.
A halt for a year resulted in “no statistically significant increase in allergy,” said the study, noting that three youths who ate peanuts and three who avoided peanuts developed allergies between age five and six.
“Overall, the study saw a 74 percent relative reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy in those who consumed peanut compared to those who avoided.”
Peanut allergy was far more common (18.6 percent) in children who avoided peanuts during the trial, than those who ate peanuts (4.8 percent).
The LEAP research has led to calls for change in feeding recommendations for babies. Until now officials have urged parents to avoid giving nuts to infants and toddlers particularly those with other conditions such as eczema until the age of two or three.
Peanut allergies affect as many as one in 50 children in Britain, and are a growing concern in parts of Africa and Asia as well.