By Xantha Leatham Deputy Science Editor of the Daily Mail
Updated: 4:37 PM March 17, 2023
Parents should introduce their children to peanut products from the age of four months to prevent them from developing allergies, experts say.
The number of people suffering from allergic reactions to peanuts has tripled in recent decades and, in severe cases, the consequences can be fatal.
About one in 50 children are now affected, leading to lifelong concerns about the ingredients in their food.
But British researchers have discovered a “window of opportunity”, between four and six months of age, which they say is the best time to introduce babies to peanuts.
And it could reduce incidences of peanut allergies by up to 77%, they said.
The team, from King’s College London and the University of Southampton, said most peanut allergies have already developed by the time a child turns one.
They looked at data from the Inquiring About Tolerance (EAT) and Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) studies.
The Leap study involved 640 babies considered to be at high risk of developing peanut allergy and looked at the early introduction of peanut products.
The Eat project has seen over 1,300 three-month-old babies recruited across England and Wales. They were followed for several years to investigate the early introduction of six allergenic foods – milk, peanut, sesame, fish, egg and wheat.
An analysis, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that peanut products were best introduced to babies four to six months old.
WHAT IS ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK?
Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can kill within minutes.
It is a serious and life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.
The reaction can often be triggered by certain foods, including peanuts and shellfish.
However, certain medications, bee stings, and even the latex used in condoms can also cause a life-threatening reaction.
According to the NHS, this happens when the immune system overreacts to a trigger.
Symptoms include: feeling light-headed or fainting; breathing difficulties – such as rapid, shallow breathing; wheezing; a rapid heartbeat; clammy skin; confusion and anxiety and collapse or lose consciousness.
It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Insect bites are not dangerous for most victims, but a person does not have to have a pre-existing condition to be at risk.
A gradual accumulation of stings can cause a person to develop an allergy, with a subsequent sting triggering the anaphylactic reaction.
This could reduce the incidence of peanut allergies by 77%, compared to only 33% if peanuts are introduced when the child is one year old.
Babies at higher risk of developing an allergy – for example if they already have eczema – should be started closer to four months, they added.
The NHS currently advises that nuts and peanuts can be introduced from around six months as long as they are crushed, ground or a smooth nut or peanut butter.
Based on their findings, the scientists are asking the government to review the latest evidence.
Lead author Professor Graham Roberts said: ‘Current guidelines suggest peanuts should be introduced from around six months of age.
“The latest government report on introducing foods to babies’ diets was published in 2018. Since then a number of studies have been published which suggest that the early introduction of peanuts and other foods can help prevent the development of allergies.
“We believe the government should review current guidelines on when to introduce peanuts to babies’ diets.” In our opinion, peanuts should be introduced earlier if infants are developmentally ready for solid foods.
He explained that a peanut allergy occurs when the body mistakes peanuts for something dangerous and reacts to them.
“The reaction can involve the whole body – your lips may swell, you may get an itchy rash and you may start having breathing problems,” he said.
“A baby’s immune system must learn to differentiate between food and dangerous insects that need to be kept away from the body.
“The way the body does this is through the form it sees things in. If it sees peanuts in reasonably large amounts in the gut, it will come to regard it as a safe food and will not develop ‘allergy.”
Pediatric dietitian Mary Feeney, of King’s College London, said their findings indicate that giving babies a full teaspoon of peanut butter three times a week is the recommended amount to reduce the risk of them becoming allergic to it.
She warned that babies or preschoolers should never be given whole or chopped nuts because they risk choking.
And babies should be developmentally ready to start eating solid foods when peanut products are introduced, she added.
Professor Gideon Lack, of King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The benefits of introducing peanut products to babies’ diets diminish as they get older. age.
“This reflects the experience in Israel, a culture where peanut products are commonly introduced early in infant diets and peanut allergy is rare.
“There is a narrow window of opportunity to prevent the development of an allergy.
“Introducing peanut products at four to six months of age could significantly reduce the number of children developing a peanut allergy.”
Nine-year-old girl is first to receive life-changing peanut allergy treatment
Peanut-allergic children across the country will be the first in Europe to receive life-changing treatment.
NHS England has struck a deal for Palforzia, an immunotherapy pill that helps reduce the severity of symptoms, including anaphylaxis after a reaction to peanuts.
Evelina London Children’s Hospital participated in two large peanut allergy trials – the Palisade and Artemis studies.
Sophie Pratt said her family’s life changed after her nine-year-old daughter Emily took part in the Palisade trial.
She said: “Participating in the clinical trial has been life changing for our whole family. The treatment we received means that Emily is freed from limitations and the fear that the slightest mistake could put her life at risk, and it took away all the tension and worry that just eating weighed on us every day. .
“This was particularly noticeable on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and holidays where there were often special foods like cakes, ice creams and sweets that invariably had warnings, ‘may contain peanuts’ or menus. no in English.
“Since the trial, Emily can go to parties and dates with confidence, eat at restaurants without us having to call ahead to check the menu, and we managed to spend her first vacation at abroad in New York and even feeding animals to zoo experiences – which is Emily’s passion.
“We couldn’t be more grateful.”
The Artemis study found that about six in ten of four to 17 year olds who responded to about 10g of peanut protein at the start of the trial were able to take a dose of 1000mg by the end, which which is well above the accidental exposure amount.
Up to 600 children aged between four and 17 are expected to be treated this year, with those in England due to be treated first in Europe, due to an agreement reached by the NHS. Some 2,000 a year after that will be processed.
Currently, peanut allergies affect one in 50 children in the UK.
NHS Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said: ‘This pioneering treatment can change the lives of patients and their families and, thanks to the agreement reached by the NHS, people here will be the first in Europe to benefit.
“It will reduce the fear and anxiety for patients and their families who may have been living with this allergy for years and carrying emergency medication just in case.
“They should be able to enjoy meals or vacations abroad together without worrying about an allergic reaction that could land them in hospital or worse.”
Professor George du Toit, child allergy consultant at Evelina London, was the UK lead researcher for both trials.
He said: “This is great news for children and young people with peanut allergies. The approval of Palforzia represents a significant step forward in improving the care of allergy sufferers, and we will now have access to the first approved treatment to reduce the severity of this allergy and protect against accidental exposure to peanuts. .
“This will have a huge impact on the daily lives of our patients and their families.”