Prevent peanut allergy with peanuts, new study suggests

It’s not nuts. Results from a lPeanutButterSandwich_LittleBoy_blogong-awaited clinical trial are now showing that small children who avoided peanuts for the first five years of their lives were up to seven times more likely to have a peanut allergy than kids who ate peanuts at least three times a week.

These findings have caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to withdraw its endorsement of peanut avoidance for infants and toddlers, which was originally set in 2000.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study enrolled 640 infants between four and 11 months old. According to an article, researchers conducted a skin-prick test to see whether the infants had any sensitivity to peanuts at the start of the study. Then they were randomly assigned to either consume at least six grams of peanut protein per week, or to avoid peanuts altogether.

The researchers examined the children in two groups — the 85% who had no sensitivity to peanuts at the start of the study and the 15% who were already developing peanut allergies. Among the children with no sign of peanut allergy at the start of the trial, 13.7% of those who avoided peanuts became allergic by the time they turned five-years-old.

However, the children who ate peanuts regularly, only 1.9% became allergic. That amounted to an 86% relative reduction in peanut allergy risk, the study authors found and described as “striking.”

“The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in the article.

The study also found that peanut exposure was also helpful for kids who were already on the road to peanut allergies. Among the five-years-old, the allergy rate for those who avoided peanuts was 35.3%, compared with only 10.6% for those who ate peanuts. That worked out to a 70% relative reduction in allergy risk, according to the article.

The trial results offer more support for the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which ties the rise in allergies and autoimmune disorders to the ultra-sterile environment made possible by antibacterial soap, disinfectants and other cleansers that have become staples of modern life. In fact, in addition to this study, another study was recently published that found children whose families used dishwashing machines were more likely to have allergies than kids whose plates were washed by hand.

As stated in the article, all of this unnatural cleanliness robs the immune system of the opportunity to develop resistance to germs and other substances that humans used to encounter on a regular basis. The result is less immune tolerance, and more allergies. About 3% of children in developed countries are now allergic to peanuts, the study authors said, noting the rate in the U.S. has tripled over less than two decades.

The researchers from this study were also able to collect dust samples from the beds of nearly two-thirds of the children at the end of the trial. Children who ate peanuts had a median of 91.1 micrograms of peanut particles in their bed dust, while those who avoided peanuts had a median of only 4.1 micrograms of peanut.

Blood tests also showed that the children who ate peanuts had higher levels of two types of peanut-related antibodies than the children who avoided the nuts.

However, the article states that peanut exposure was not without some problems. Side effects, although only mild or moderate, included upper respiratory tract infections, viral skin infections, hives, gastroenteritis and conjunctivitis, which occurred more frequently among the peanut eaters than the peanut avoiders.

“This intervention was safe, tolerated, and highly efficacious,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers are now planning another study that will track the participants through a study they hope will determine how much peanut protein children need to eat to reduce their allergy risk, and if the protective effect wears off if kids stop eating peanuts.

“The results of this trial are so compelling, and the problem of the increasing prevalence of peanut allergy so alarming, new guidelines should be forthcoming very soon,” two pediatric allergy specialists wrote in an editorial that accompanies the study.

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