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Study suggests early exposure may curb peanut allergy

Posted September 15, 2017 5:10 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:05 p.m. EDT

Recent studies show it is more beneficial to expose infants and children to peanut-containing products, rather than to encourage abstinence.

This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Peanut Growers Association.

Despite earlier recommendations from pediatricians, recent studies show it is more beneficial to expose infants and children to peanut-containing products, rather than to encourage abstinence.

The new information, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, comes after a period that saw a rise in food allergies, including to peanuts.

Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut allergies rose from 0.6 percent to between one and two percent. In the midst of this rise, the American Academy of Pediatrics made the recommendation to parents that they do not expose their young children to peanuts.

This recommendation, made in 2000, was meant to reduce the overall incidence of children developing peanut allergies.

A 2016 study commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency and performed by scientists from Imperial College London "suggests introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies," according to Dr. Robert Boyle, the lead researcher on the project at Imperial College.

Study Has Surprising Findings

A 2015 study put on by the Immune Tolerance Network, and presented at the annual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, has produced a complete reversal on the scientific consensus on the subject.

The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergies) study showed that children abstaining were, in fact, more, not less, likely to develop allergies to peanuts.

The study took 600 children at a higher-than-average risk of developing peanut allergies and separated them randomly into two groups: one would completely abstain for the next five years, and the other would eat three peanut-containing snacks per week. The children began the study between 4 and 11 months old and were monitored throughout.

Out of the abstaining children, 17 percent developed peanut allergies, while, in the same pool of high-peanut-allergy-risk children, only three percent of those regularly eating peanuts developed reactions.

"Peanut allergy at 72 months was significantly more prevalent among participants in the peanut-avoidance group than among those in the peanut-consumption group," the study found.

The results caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to withdraw their anti-peanut recommendations.

Peanuts : Spotlight : Hygiene

The Hygiene Hypothesis

The study showed that by having their children avoid peanuts in hopes of preventing allergies, parents were raising the risk of these allergies five to seven times. The results actually may have given a clue as to why there was a rise in food allergies in the late 1990s, as well.

A theory called the "Hygiene Hypothesis" suggests that many parents keep their homes too clean, weakening their children’s immune system. Allergies are caused by immune systems overreacting to perceived threats that are actually benign, like foods and pet dander. A weaker immune system is more likely to make these mistakes.

Overuse of antibacterial soaps and even over-cleaning the dishes can weaken children's immune systems. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed families that washed dishes by hand reduced the development of allergies in their children as compared to those using the more thorough dishwashing machines.

This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Peanut Growers Association.