Most of us know of someone who's allergic to peanuts.
It can be a serious allergy, with severe cases causing anaphylaxis - a life-threatening reaction where the throat constricts.
The allergy develops early in life, is rarely out-grown and there is currently no cure. What’s more, it’s becoming increasingly common.
But according to a new study, there may be a way to reduce your child’s risk of developing the allergy - and it’s pretty surprising.
Scientists at Kings College have been following hundreds of children for more than 10 years to see if early exposure to nuts could prevent the emergence of potentially lethal allergies.
They found that introducing nuts regularly in the first year of life was enough to build up a tolerance by the age of six, even if the child stopped eating them for 12 months.
All the kids tested had a family history of peanut allergies, placing them at high risk. Currently, experts recommend that children at risk should avoid nuts for the first three years of life, the results of this study suggest that this could cause more harm than good.
“The aim of our study was to find out whether infants who had consumed peanut in the study would remain protected against peanut allergy after they stopped eating peanut for 12 months,” said Professor Gideon Lack, lead researcher.
“It clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting,” he said.
Further research is required before health professionals start doling out advice on peanut consumption amongst young children, but the findings do suggest that we should be adopting a ‘vaccination’ approach when it comes to nuts.
And it could apply to other foods that we’re typically allergic to.
“The results point the way to completely fresh thinking on the mechanisms of tolerance to allergenic foods in ‘at risk’ infants and have the potential to provide future advice for prevention based on stringent experimentation,” said Professor Barry Kay, a professor of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Imperial College London. “They rank amongst the most important studies ever published in the field of food allergy.”
However, experts have cautioned parents not to try this at home.
“These studies were carried out under the close guidance of allergy doctors,” said Dr Michael walker. “Parents shouldn’t attempt to replicate what the studies did by themselves but should follow general guidance.”