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Nutty infants, fewer allergies later

More research supports feeding infants peanuts earlier as a peanut allergy prevention strategy.

Go ahead, give those kids nuts. They might help protect them from developing peanut allergies later in life, according to more research that supports this strategy.

Introducing peanuts to infants at high risk of developing peanut allergy early in their lives could significantly reduce the risk of peanut allergy until six years of age, even if they stop eating peanut around the age of five, according to a new study led by King's College London. The research, called the LEAP-On study, is a follow-up study based on the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) study, which found that the majority of infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy are protected from peanut allergy at age five if they eat peanuts frequently, starting within the first 11 months of life. That research flew in the face of conventional wisdom, which held that young children should avoid peanuts, according to The New York Times.

LEAP-On was designed to determine whether the infants who ate peanuts in the previous study would remain protected again the allergy if they stopped eating nuts for a year. It turns out that the peanut shield remains strong, based on the study’s results. The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped pay for the research, has issued proposed new guidelines recommending that children at risk of peanut allergies be fed peanuts starting at four to six months of age, though they should be tested first to make sure they do not already have an allergy.

The number of people who have food allergies has increased in recent decades, with around 5 to 7 percent of infants and 1 to 2 percent of adults at risk. Could this strategy also work for foods other than peanuts? The scientists said that research is needed to understand the allergy-prevention mechanism highlighted in the peanut studies and how it might translate to other food allergies.

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