Eating Peanuts Early in Life May Lower Allergy Risk

Scientists tracked the rate of peanut allergies among children given peanut products from infancy to five years and found that those who consumed peanuts were less likely to develop an allergy as they aged.

A follow-up trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine has revealed that introducing peanuts early in a child's life may offer long-term protection against developing a peanut allergy — the most common food allergy in children under 18. Peanut allergies can be dangerous as people allergic to this common food item can experience anaphylactic shock — a life-threatening allergic reaction.

The trial was the third phase of the Learning Early About Peanut allergy (LEAP) series of long-term studies investigating whether introducing peanuts to youngsters up to age five could prevent them from developing reactions.


During the first phase, researchers found that consuming peanuts and peanut food products in infancy prevented the development of a peanut allergy. A follow-up trial showed that this protective effect continued after the children's first birthday. Specifically, young children who ate peanuts were 81% less likely to become allergic by age five and continued to have a low risk through age six.

To determine if this protective effect persisted years later, scientists recruited 255 children from the previous trials who ate peanuts at an early age and 253 who did not.

The researchers discovered that about 4% of those introduced to peanuts early in life developed an allergy by age 12. In contrast, around 15% of children who avoided consuming peanuts early on became allergic by the same age.

"Peanut consumption, starting in infancy and continuing to age five years, provided lasting tolerance to peanut into adolescence irrespective of subsequent peanut consumption, demonstrating that long-term prevention and tolerance can be achieved in food allergy," the study's authors wrote.

Evidence from other research

The LEAP trials are not the only studies showing that introducing a potentially allergenic food early in life may help prevent future allergic reactions.

For example, the results of a 2021 study involving 770 infants showed that early introduction of eggs and peanuts is linked with a lower risk of developing a food allergy.

In a 2023 systemic review and meta-analysis of 23 randomized clinical trials, scientists concluded that earlier introduction of multiple allergenic foods was associated with a reduced risk of developing an allergy. The researchers found this association was stronger for eggs or peanuts.


However, the study's findings suggest that the parents of approximately 38 children at low risk of allergies would need to introduce allergenic foods early to prevent one child from developing food allergies.

Though the number of children saved from developing reactions would be higher among high-risk individuals, the study's authors say it's critical to establish the safety, cost-effectiveness, and acceptability of introducing allergenic foods to young children.

Is it safe to give young children allergenic foods?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents offer peanut products to babies between four and six months of age to help prevent future reactions. However, the AAP urges caution since peanuts are a choking hazard, and suggests that parents blend peanut butter into pureed fruits and vegetables to be safe.

In addition, the Academy strongly advises parents of high-risk infants with severe eczema or an egg allergy to have their child tested for peanut allergies before giving them peanuts.

Despite the promising research results and expert recommendations, parents considering giving their babies peanut products, eggs, or other highly allergenic foods should err on the side of caution and consult with their child's pediatrician to discuss the potential risks and benefits of this food allergy prevention strategy.


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