A new NIAID-funded study suggests that early consumption of peanut may prevent peanut allergy in children at high risk of developing the allergy. Under careful medical supervision, infants were assigned to either avoid or include peanut products in their diets until 5 years of age.
The researchers found an 81 percent reduction of peanut allergy in children who consumed peanut compared to those who avoided peanut. The study is the first to show that early introduction of peanut is beneficial, but the researchers caution that parents of children at risk for developing food allergy should discuss dietary questions with an allergist or pediatrician.
More than 600 high-risk infants between 4 and 11 months of age were assigned randomly either to avoid peanut entirely or to regularly include at least 6 grams of peanut protein per week in their diets. The avoidance and consumption regimens were continued until 5 years of age. Participants were monitored throughout this period with recurring visits with health care professionals, in addition to completing dietary surveys by telephone.
The researchers assessed peanut allergy at 5 years of age with a supervised, oral food challenge with peanut. They found an overall 81 percent reduction of peanut allergy in children who began early, continuous consumption of peanut compared to those who avoided peanut.
“Prior to 2008, clinical practice guidelines recommended avoidance of potentially allergenic foods in the diets of young children at heightened risk for development of food allergies,” said Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID’s Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation. “While recent studies showed no benefit from allergen avoidance, the LEAP study is the first to show that early introduction of dietary peanut is actually beneficial and identifies an effective approach to manage a serious public health problem.”
A follow-up study called LEAP-On will ask all LEAP study participants to avoid peanut consumption for one year. These results will determine whether continuous peanut consumption is required to maintain a child’s tolerance to peanut.