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NIH: Early peanut allergy prevention strategy safe, effective

Feeding small amounts of peanut protein to infants was found effective to prevent the allergy in the same study in 2015.

By Stephen Feller
The incidence of peanut allergy has increased during the last two decades, but researchers at the National Institutes of Health say a recent study shows giving peanut protein to infants can prevent the allergy and is safe. Photo by saschanti17/Shutterstock
The incidence of peanut allergy has increased during the last two decades, but researchers at the National Institutes of Health say a recent study shows giving peanut protein to infants can prevent the allergy and is safe. Photo by saschanti17/Shutterstock

BETHESDA, Md., June 10 (UPI) -- A method of preventing peanut allergy from infancy was found to be safe in a recent study, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Introducing peanut products into the diets of infants who were at high risk to develop a peanut allergy was significantly effective at preventing the allergy, and was found to not affect growth, nutrition or breastfeeding, researchers report.

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The Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, or LEAP, trial found infants who consumed 2 grams of peanut protein three times per week led to an 81 percent reduction in development of peanut allergy among high-risk infants.

Previous studies have suggested feeding small amounts of peanuts or peanut proteins can help head off the allergy, which has increased in prevalence in recent years as people have subscribed to avoiding peanuts in order to avoid the allergy -- which was shown in LEAP to be far less effective.

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The new study was a secondary analysis of the LEAP results, which researchers say shows the treatment to proactively prevent the allergy is as safe as it is effective.

"Overall, these findings indicate that early-life introduction of peanut-containing foods as a strategy to prevent the subsequent development of peanut allergy is both feasible and nutritionally safe, even at high levels of peanut consumption," Dr. Marshall Plaut, chief of the Food Allergy, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergic Mechanisms Section in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a press release.

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For the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers recruited 640 infants who were randomly fed either 6 grams of peanut protein per week or avoided peanuts until they were 60 months of age.

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The reanalysis of data showed introducing peanuts to breast-feeding infants did not affect the amount of time they breastfed, nor were there differences in energy intake between either of the groups of infants.

Regular consumption of peanut did lead to differences in dietary intake, as infants fed peanut had higher fat intake and those avoiding peanut had higher carbohydrate intake, while protein was similar between the two groups.

"The striking finding that early inclusion of peanut products in the diet reduces later development of allergy already is beginning to transform how clinicians approach peanut allergy prevention," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID. "The new results provide reassurance that early-life peanut consumption has no negative effect on children's growth and nutrition."

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