Miami (AFP) - With peanut allergies on the rise worldwide, a study found that contrary to previous advice, feeding foods containing peanuts to babies before 11 months of age may help prevent allergies.
The findings in the New England Journal of Medicine are based on a British study of 640 children, aged four months to 11 months, who were considered at high risk of becoming allergic to peanuts either because of a pre-existing egg allergy or eczema, which can be linked to peanut allergy.
Researchers at Evelina London Children's Hospital randomized the children into two groups -- some were fed foods containing pureed peanuts and others were told to avoid peanuts until they turned five -- to see if avoiding peanuts was really the best way to prevent peanut allergy.
They found that by age five, fewer than one percent of the children who ate food containing peanuts three or more times each week developed a peanut allergy, compared to 17.3 percent in the group that avoided peanuts entirely.
The final results did not include 13 out of 319 randomized children who were excused after showing signs of peanut allergy early in the study.
The children involved in the research were also not fed whole peanuts, which can be a choking hazard.
"This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines," said Gideon Lack, head of the Pediatric Allergy Department at King's College London, who led the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study.
"Whilst these were withdrawn in 2008 in the UK and US, our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children," added Lack, who presented the findings at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Houston, Texas.
Lack urged parents of babies and young children with eczema or egg allergies to consult with their pediatrician about the possibility of trying to introduce peanuts into their children's diet.