Kids With Peanut Allergies Could Actually Benefit From Eating Peanuts

Hold on to your peanut butter: The nutty treat might be able to save children from a lifetime of allergies.

A study presented Monday indicates allergy-prone young children exposed to peanuts at least three times a week in their formative stages are less likely to develop peanut allergies later in life.

The Learning Early about Peanut Allergy trial (LEAP), which ran between 2006 and 2009, analyzed the results of both eating and avoiding peanuts in more than 600 children between 4 and 11 months old.

All participants had either an egg allergy or eczema, but 530 of them did not demonstrate a peanut allergy in the initial testing.

The parents of half of the 530 patients were told to avoid giving their children peanuts while the other half of the group were fed a maximum of 6 grams of "peanut protein" each week.

The smaller group of children, who already showed reactions to peanuts, were split into two groups and fed in the same manner.

Researchers checked in with each child every week until he or she reached 12 months, then slowly tapered off in frequency as the trial participants grew older.

The team analyzed information from both groups: the children who seemed to be developing allergies at the beginning of the trial and those who hadn't shown a reaction to the nut.

The results were striking: At 5 years old, 13.7 percent of the children who hadn't been allergic to peanuts and avoided them showed signs of an allergy, as compared to only 1.9 percent of the children who'd regularly eaten peanuts.

That's about an 86 percent relative reduction in allergies.

And of the 98 children who'd initially reacted somewhat negatively to peanuts, only 10.6 percent actually developed the allergy when fed peanuts three times a week. Of the children in this group who were not fed peanuts, 35.3 percent developed the allergy.

In a press release, lead researcher Gideon Lack, MD, noted his study has its limitations, saying,

The study... excluded infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy. The safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study.

Although the Los Angeles Times reports children who regularly consumed peanuts are more susceptible to issues like viral skin infection and gastroenteritis, Lack and his team think they're onto something important.

They've begun a continuation on the study called LEAP-On, an attempt to see whether or not constant peanut consumption is necessary to avoid allergies.

Citations: Peanut allergies? For children, the best treatment may be peanuts (LA Times)