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Early peanut exposure may reduce chances of
allergy: Study 11-07-08
By Stephen Daniells
peanuts in infancy and early childhood may increase the risk of developing
peanut allergy, says a joint British-Israeli study.
Children in the UK, where recommendations are to avoid peanuts during pregnancy,
breastfeeding, and infancy, were 10 times more likely to suffer from peanut
allergy than their Israeli counterparts, according to a new study published in
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Previous studies have shown that the prevalence of peanut allergy, which can be
fatal, has doubled in the UK and US during the last decade.
The new research, led by George Du Toit from King’s College London and Asthma UK
Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, compared the incidence of peanut
allergy in 8,600 Jewish school-age children in the UK and Israel.
The findings showed that in Israel, the prevalence of peanut allergy is only
0.17 per cent - a mere fraction of the 1.85 per cent in the UK.
“The most obvious difference in the diet of infants in both populations occurs
in the introduction of peanut,” write Du Toit. At nine months of age, 69 per
cent of Israeli children were consuming peanut, while only ten per cent of the
children in the UK were eating peanuts.
While the results appear to cast doubt on government health recommendations of
peanut avoidance in such countries where such recommendations exist, the
researchers stressed that more research is needed before those guidelines should
Peanut allergies are rising in humans, with an estimated 2.5 million people in
Europe and the US now vulnerable to the food allergy.
In addition to peanuts, the escalating incidences of all food allergies in
Europe and the desire to avoid potentially harmful consumer confusion
underpinned changes to the Labeling Directive 2000/13/EC to highlight possible
allergens in a food product.
There is no current cure for food allergy and vigilance by an allergic
individual is the only way to prevent a reaction but a peanut allergy can be so
severe that only very tiny amounts can be enough to trigger a response.
Du Toit and his co-workers measured the incidence of peanut allergy in the
children from four to 24 months of age. Data was collected from mothers. The
researchers selected the two Jewish populations due to their similar genetics,
rate of atopy, and environmental and socioeconomic backgrounds, thereby helping
to decrease and/or eliminate other factors that could account for the difference
in peanut allergy rates.
They found that the average monthly intake of peanuts by the Israeli children
aged between eight and 14 months was 7.1 grams of peanut protein, but it was
zero for children in the UK.
"Our findings raise the question of whether early and frequent ingestion of
high-dose peanut protein during infancy might prevent the development of PA
through tolerance induction," wrote the researchers.
"Paradoxically, past recommendations in the United States and current
recommendations in the UK and Australia might be promoting the development of PA
and could explain the continued increase in the prevalence of PA observed in
Optimistic, but caution required
Commenting on the results, Jacqueline Pongracic, MD, vice chair of the American
Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) Adverse Reactions to Foods
Committee said: “While this study's findings provide optimism for prevention of
peanut allergy in the future, randomized, controlled trials are needed to verify
that early introduction of peanut is indeed effective.”
Such studies are underway. The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study,
a large randomized study in the U.K., is currently testing the effects of early
"Until such evidence is obtained, current recommendations should remain
unchanged," concluded Du Toit and his co-workers.