Parents should introduce their children to peanut products as early as four months of age 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 deadly.
Around one in 50 children are now affected, leading to a lifetime of concerns about the ingredients in their food.
But UK researchers have discovered a “window of opportunity” – between the ages of four and six months – which they say is the best time to introduce babies to the nutrient.
And doing so could reduce incidences of peanut allergies by up to 77 percent, they said.
Experts found that introducing peanut products to babies when they were four and six months reduced the incidence of peanut allergies later in life by 77 percent (file image)
The team, from King’s College London and the University of Southampton, said most peanut allergies have already developed by the time a child is one year old.
They examined data from the Inquiring About Tolerance (EAT) and Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) studies.
The Leap study involved 640 infants considered at high risk of developing peanut allergy and examined the early introduction of peanut products.
The Eat project saw more than 1,300 three-month-olds recruited across England and Wales. They were tracked over several years to investigate the early introduction of six allergenic foods: milk, peanuts, sesame, fish, egg, and wheat.
The analysis, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, revealed that it was best to introduce peanut products to babies between four and six months of age.
WHAT IS ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK?
Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can cause death in a matter of 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, some medications, bee stings, and even the latex used in condoms can also cause the life-threatening reaction.
According to the NHS, it occurs when the immune system overreacts to a trigger.
Symptoms include: feeling dizzy or faint; breathing difficulties, such as rapid, shallow breathing; wheezing; a racing heartbeat; cold, clammy skin; confusion and anxiety and collapse or loss of consciousness.
It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Insect bites are not dangerous for most victims, but a person does not necessarily have to have a pre-existing condition to be in danger.
An incremental accumulation of bites can cause a person to develop an allergy, with a subsequent bite triggering the anaphylactic reaction.
Doing so could reduce the incidence of peanut allergies by 77 percent, compared to just 33 percent if peanuts are introduced when the child is one year old.
Babies with a higher risk of developing an allergy, for example if they already have eczema, should start closer to four months, they added.
The NHS currently says that walnuts and peanuts can be introduced from the age of six months, as long as they are crushed, ground or as a smooth walnut or peanut butter.
Based on their findings, the scientists ask the government to review the latest evidence.
Lead author Professor Graham Roberts said: “Current guidance suggests that peanuts should be introduced at around six months of age.
‘The last government report on the introduction of foods into infants’ diets was published in 2018. Since then, several studies have been published suggesting that the early introduction of peanuts and other foods may help prevent the development of allergies.
“We think the government should review the current guidance on when to introduce peanuts into babies’ diets. In our view, peanuts should be introduced earlier if babies are developmentally ready to eat solid foods.’
He explained that a peanut allergy occurs when the body mistakes peanuts for something dangerous and reacts.
“The reaction can involve the whole body — your lips may swell, you may get an itchy rash, and you may start to have trouble breathing,” he said.
A baby’s immune system needs to learn to differentiate between food and dangerous insects that need to be kept out of the body.
“The way the body does this is through the way it sees things. If you see peanuts in reasonably large amounts in your gut, you’ll see it as a safe food and you won’t develop an allergy.”
Pediatric dietitian Mary Feeney, from King’s College London, said their findings indicate that giving babies a heaping teaspoon of peanut butter three times a week is the recommended amount to reduce the chances of them becoming allergic to it.
He cautioned that babies or preschoolers should never be given whole or chopped nuts, as they risk choking.
And babies should be developmentally ready to start solid foods when peanut products are introduced, she added.
Professor Gideon Lack, from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The benefits of introducing peanut products into babies’ diets diminish as they age.”
‘This reflects the experience in Israel, a culture where peanut products are commonly introduced early into the infant diet and peanut allergy is rare.
‘There is a small window of opportunity to prevent the development of an allergy.
“The introduction of peanut products at four to six months of age could substantially reduce the number of children who develop peanut allergies.”
Nine-year-old girl first to benefit from life-changing peanut allergy treatment
Nine-year-old Emily Pratt became one of the first children in Europe to receive Palforzia, an immunotherapy pill that helps reduce the severity of symptoms, including anaphylaxis, after a reaction to peanuts.
Children with peanut allergies across the country will be the first in Europe to receive a life-changing treatment.
NHS England has secured 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 was involved in two large peanut allergy trials: the Palisade and Artemis studies.
Sophie Pratt said her family’s life had changed after her nine-year-old daughter Emily was involved in the Palisade trial.
She said: ‘Being in the clinical trial has changed the lives of our entire family. The treatment we received has freed Emily from the limits and the fear that the slightest mistake could put her life at risk, and it has taken away all the tension and worry that the simple act of eating hung over us every day. .
“It was particularly noticeable on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and holidays where there are often special foods such as cakes, ice cream and confectionery that invariably had warnings, ‘may contain peanuts’ or non-English menus.”
“Since the trial, Emily is able to go to parties and games with confidence, eat at restaurants without us having to call ahead to check the menu, and we managed to have her first vacation abroad in New York and even participated in animal feeding. “. in experiences at the zoo, which is Emily’s passion.
‘We couldn’t be more grateful.’
The Artemis study found that around six out of 10 young people aged four to 17 who reacted to around 10g of peanut protein at the start of the trial were able to take a dose of 1,000mg at the end, which is well above the amount of accidental exposure.
Up to 600 children aged four to 17 are expected to be treated this year, with those in England set to be the first in Europe, thanks to an agreement reached by the NHS. About 2,000 a year after that will be treated.
Peanut allergies currently affect one in 50 children in the UK.
NHS Chief Medical Officer Professor Stephen Powis said: “This pioneering treatment can be life-changing for patients and their families and, thanks to the deal the NHS has reached, people here will be the first in Europe to benefit.”
“It will reduce fear and anxiety for patients and their families who may have been living with this allergy for years and who carry emergency medication with them 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 the hospital or worse.”
Professor George du Toit, Children’s Allergy Consultant at Evelina London, was the UK Principal Investigator on both trials.
He said: ‘This is great news for children and young people with peanut allergies. Palforzia’s approval represents an important step toward improving allergy care, 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.”