The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) by King’s College London is the first study to show that consumption is an effective strategy to prevent food allergy, contradicting previous recommendations.
Chair of the Anaphylaxis Campaign's Clinical and Scientific panel Dr Andrew Clark said: "This study could be a turning point in the way we try to prevent food allergy in the future, it really does prove a principle that it is possible to reduce the prevalence of peanut allergy early in childhood by feeding infants peanut in a careful and controlled way.
"But we should remember this study was carried out at an internationally renowned centre, and they selected children at quite low risk of a severe reaction. Don't try this at home."
The LEAP study enrolled 640 children aged 4-11 months who were considered at high-risk of developing peanut allergy due to pre-existing severe eczema and/or egg allergy. Half of the children were asked to eat peanut-containing foods three or more times each week, and the other half to avoid eating peanut until 5 years of age.
Sustained consumption of peanut is safe
Less than 1% of children who consumed peanut as per study protocol and completed the study developed peanut allergy by 5 years of age, while 17.3% in the avoidance group developed peanut allergy. Even when considering all children enrolled, the authors suggest that a powerful protective effect against the development of peanut allergy remains: the overall prevalence of allergy in all children asked to consume peanut was 3.2% versus 17.2% in the avoidance group. This represents a greater than 80% reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy.
The study concluded that early, sustained consumption of peanut is safe and associated with a substantial and significant decrease in the development of peanut allergy in high-risk infants by the age of five.
Presenting the findings at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting (AAAAI), study lead Professor Gideon Lack added : "This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines. Whilst these were withdrawn in 2008 in the UK and US, our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children."
"The study also excluded infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy; the safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study. Parents of infants and young children with eczema and/or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, paediatrician, or their GP prior to feeding them peanut products."