A research team from Great Britain and the USA conducted a study which found that the risk of developing a peanut allergy can be influenced in early childhood. Over the past ten years, the number of peanut allergies has doubled for children in Western countries and this number is also rising in Africa and Asia. The researchers wanted to see whether there were strategies for preventing peanut allergies, as once an allergy develops then it generally persists throughout the affected person’s life.
The results of the study are completely unique. It appears possible that the risk of developing a peanut allergy can be reduced by approximately 70-86% in the first five years of a child’s life. Small children need to eat small amounts of peanuts regularly to prevent this risk.
628 children at risk of allergy, aged from four to eleven months, participated in the study. They already had certain predisposing conditions, such as an egg allergy or eczema. All children underwent a prick test to see whether a skin reaction indicative of a peanut allergy was elicited – 530 children showed a negative result, 98 showed a positive result. They were then split into two groups. Half of the children were told not to eat any peanuts at all until they were five, and the other half were to eat 6 grams of peanuts per week, distributed over one or two mealtimes, until they reached an age of 60 months. Result: 13.7% of the children in the group that did not eat any peanuts had developed a peanut allergy by the age of five. In contrast, only 1.9% of the group that ate small amounts of peanuts regularly developed a peanut allergy. The same trend was also observed in children with a positive prick test who had already had a sensitive skin reaction before the start of the study. 35.3% of these children, who avoided peanuts up until the end of the study, developed a peanut allergy. On the contrary, only 10.6% of the children who had eaten peanuts regularly were affected.
Summary: The results of this study give us hope that children can build up a tolerance to peanuts if they eat peanuts regularly. It is possible that having a peanut-free diet is even counter-productive and could increase the risk of allergy. We cannot derive any concrete recommendations for nutrition from these results. We need more studies on this which include children with a very high risk of allergy and which look at those who are older.
Du Toit G et al.: Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy. N Engl J Med. 2015; 372(9):803-13