Study: Introducing Peanuts to Infants May Protect Them From Allergies

Mankind has long been in search of the perfect diet, believing it to be the key to immortality. Food is health-giving but also dangerous, and for those inclined to worry about their health, what to eat is a constant source of anxiety. Should I eat this, should I avoid that? Is this food the elixir of life or a deadly poison (it is usually something in between the two)?

A new source of concern is about food is allergy, the prevalence of which has increased greatly in recent years. It is especially worrying in children. In Britain, for example, 5 – 8 percent of children now have a proven food allergy, and the number has doubled in the last decade. Not surprisingly, mothers have responded by not giving their infants and young children some of the foods to which allergies often develop, such as peanuts.

While this might seem reasonable, experimental studies have shown that the reverse policy – that of giving children peanuts early in infancy – actually confers protection against the development of allergy. What is not known, however, is how long such protection lasts, and whether it wears off once the children are no longer given peanuts as part of their diet. An experiment reported in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine attempts to answer this question.

Infants and children who were at high risk of allergy were divided at random into those given peanut products during infancy until 5 years of age and those whose diet carefully avoided such products. After the age of 5, all children were placed on a peanut-free diet for a year and then re-tested for allergy to peanuts.