Research carried out at King’s College London suggests that feeding peanut snacks to babies could reduce their chance of becoming allergic.
The researchers said the babies who were fed peanuts (or rather, products containing peanuts) maintained their immunity even if they stopped eating them in childhood.
The study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, followed 550 children considered to be at risk (meaning that they have a family history of intolerance) of developing a peanut allergy. It was found that babies fed peanut snacks before the age of 11 months were 74 per cent less likely to develop an allergy by the age of six.
In the group of children that avoided peanuts, the allergy rate was significantly higher, at 18.6 per cent, than it was in the consumption group (4.8 per cent).
The NHS currently recommends that peanuts should not be fed to at-risk children, but the researchers say this should be reconsidered. They caution that anyone thinking of doing so should consult their GP first — the children involved in the study were closely monitored by doctors.
This is a groundbreaking study. It raises questions about the current guidance – to avoid feeding at-risk children peanuts until they are three years old – but also about how allergies develop.
First, though, there are some discrepancies — a number of children reported eating either more or less peanut than they were supposed to under the study rules. This could skew the data and results to a degree.
However, the study did show a demonstrable difference between the exposure and abstinence groups. It paves the way for more work identifying how allergies occur and how they can be modulated.
It must be mentioned that the study was conducted in a safe, controlled environment, but still had a significant amount of adverse events. The authors say the results should not lead parents to start feeding peanuts to their children if there is a risk of reaction. (Though it is worth noting that a population comparison between 8- to 14-month-old children in the UK and Israel found that Israel, where children eat more peanuts on average, had a much lower rate of allergy.)
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming years, the guidance was tentatively revised.
Research score: 4/5