Several studies have documented that exposing children at a very early age to potential food allergens such as peanuts, for example, can actually help reduce some children’s risk of developing food allergies later in life.
This is extremely important to many parents as the incidence of peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled in the 11 year period of 1997-2008. However, until recently, a question still remained: Although children exposed to peanuts early in life had less of a chance of developing a peanut allergy, what type of exposure would be necessary throughout childhood for them to remain peanut allergy free?
As described in a recent article, scientists set out to answer just this question by following up on study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the original study, high-risk babies (those who have a strong family history of food allergies and those with eczema) were fed a soupy, peanut-butter mush (starting between four and 11 months of age) and were 80% less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age five, compared with kids who were not exposed.
In the follow-up study, researchers followed the same group of children for an additional year and found that these high-risk kids’ tolerance to peanuts continued to hold up even if they stopped eating peanuts. “A 12-month period of peanut avoidance was not associated with an increase in the prevalence of peanut allergy,” the authors wrote in their paper.
“This new study is great because … it looks like the benefit [of early exposure] is essentially permanent,” Scott Sicherer, a pediatric immunologist and allergy specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital said in the article. Immunologists will continue to study this, he added.
Sicherer has helped develop new interim guidance based on this and other emerging evidence of the benefits of early, rather than delayed, introduction of peanut.
“There is now scientific evidence that health care providers should recommend introducing peanut-containing products into the diets of “high-risk” infants early on in life (between four and 11 months of age),” the consensus guidance states.
But that doesn’t mean all parents should just rush in with the peanut mush. The guidance recommends that “infants with eczema or egg allergy in the first four to six months of life might benefit from evaluation by an allergist” — before they’re introduced to peanut-based foods.
The evidence from the first and the second studies together represents an important step forward in immunology, Anthony Fauci, said in the article. “It’s a very important proof of concept.”
Fauci also added this it’s possible that early exposure will turn out to be a successful strategy to prevent other allergies as well.
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Neogen offers several screening and quantitative food allergen test kits including those to detect peanut. For more information, click here.