According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The LEAP-On study followed on from the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) found that an early introduction of peanuts to the diets of infants, who were at high risk of developing food allergy within the first 11 months of their lives, protected them at 5 years old. After age five the child could afford to stop eating the food entirely for a year and then have no allergy afterwards.
This study followed up children at high risk of allergy,who had completed a previous UK-based randomised controlled trial. The children were under a year old when the trial started, were at high risk of peanut allergy because they had severe eczema or egg allergy, or both. They were tested before the start of the trial to make sure they did not already have a peanut allergy.
The study reported results from 550 children who completed a trial where they were given either a peanut snack or told to avoid peanuts entirely for a period of 11 months. Following this, all of the sample had to avoid peanuts for a year. Results showed that children who avoided peanuts completely are more likely to have a peanut allergy at six years old (18.6%) compared to the children who ate peanut snack products (4.8%).
Results showed that children who did develop peanut allergy even when they had early peanut exposure was similar- 3.6% at age 5 and 4.8% age 6. Although this is a slight increase it isn’t deemed statistically significant. The results suggest protection that is built up from the exposure is maintained, even with avoidance for a year.
Food allergies such as allergies to nuts or seeds currently affects 1-2% of the population. The risk of food allergies is higher if the child has a history of allergy in their immediate family such as asthma, eczema or hay fever. The occurrence of food allergy has risen in recent decades.
Between 1995 and 2005, the number of people being diagnosed had trebled, and this was not because detection methods had become any more advanced as they have remained the same. Peanut allergy develops early on in life and there is currently no cure. It impacts negatively on the quality of life for patients and their families.
The lead author Professor Gideon Lack, Head of the Department of Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London and Head of Children’s Allergy Service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said “I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance” he told the BBC News website.
Dr George Du Toit, consultant in Paediatric Allergy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Reader in Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London, co-investigator of the study, said: “We need more research to better understand the mechanisms behind the development and prevention of allergic responses to peanut, and how this might translate to other food allergies. However, it is reassuring that the highly protective intervention demonstrated in LEAP was not only safe, nutritionally favorable and acceptable to participant families but also sustained even with cessation of peanut consumption for 12 months.”