Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Candidate
An allergy to peanuts is one of the most common food allergies that exist worldwide. In fact, it’s a serious public health problem, as many individuals allergic to peanuts experience a serious reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. For individuals that are highly sensitive, even the smallest exposure to peanuts through food or touch can lead to an anaphylactic reaction.
What causes allergies to peanuts and other foods? Allergies are actually caused by an over exaggerated response by the immune system to something the body thinks is dangerous. It’s not totally understood why some people have allergies while others don’t, but people who have food allergies often also have asthma, hay fever, or eczema.4
The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) trial was a study that compared two different approaches to preventing infants from developing an allergy to peanuts. More specifically, the trial focused on infants who were already allergic to eggs or had severe eczema and were therefore considered at high risk of developing peanut allergies. The two strategies they tested were:1
- Exposing infants to peanuts early in life
- Avoiding peanut exposure as much as possible
To the surprise of many, the study showed that introducing peanuts into the diets of high-risk infants was safe and decreased the chance of developing an allergy by 81%.1
The study didn’t include infants who seemed to have allergies already, so take it with a grain of salt, and of course, always consult with an allergist, paediatrician or physician before exposing infants to possible allergens. Nonetheless, the results of this study could be huge for parents looking to prevent allergies in their children.
The LEAP-On study was an extension of the LEAP trial. In this study, the same participants from the LEAP trial were instructed to avoid peanut consumption for one year, to see if continuous peanut exposure was needed to stay allergy free. And you wouldn’t believe it! The majority of the study participants remained peanut allergy-free even after they stopped eating peanuts for 12 months.2
What does this mean? If your child is exposed to peanuts between the ages of zero to 5, they’re more likely not to develop allergies.2
Is this effect permanent? Currently, more research is needed to see if the allergy-free period lasts beyond one year.2
What Can I Do?
If your child has severe eczema, egg allergies, or both, then they’re more likely to develop a peanut allergy later in life. To prevent this, introducing age-appropriate peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age may be effective. But before you do this, it’s strongly recommended you contact a healthcare provider for proper allergy testing beforehand.3
If your child only has mild to moderate eczema, then introducing age-appropriate peanut-containing food may be effective up to around six months of age. 3
Lastly, if your child doesn’t have eczema or any food allergies at all, an introduction of age-appropriate peanut-containing foods can be done at whatever age they get started on solid foods, in accordance with family preferences and cultural practices.3
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