surprised when my three-year old granddaughter and her mom (my
daughter who lives several states away) suddenly appeared at
my recent retirement party. No better surprise than that.
sometimes get surprises in the world of nutrition, as well.
Like the surprising estimate that the incidence of peanut
allergy in Western countries has doubled in the past 10 years,
according to a recent analysis of this topic in the journal,
Allergy. Peanut allergy is also reported to be the leading
cause of anaphylaxis (a sudden life threatening allergic
reaction) and deaths due to food allergy. Pretty serious
allergy usually hits early in life and is seldom outgrown, say
experts. No wonder, then, that most clinical guidelines
recommend that infants at risk for allergies not be fed highly
allergenic foods (such as peanuts). And they recommend that
ó as early as pregnancy ó moms with a history of allergies
avoid peanuts and other foods that may cause a problem.
total sense. Except that these cautionary practices do not
seem to have helped children avoid serious food allergies.
along comes a study that tried something different. Scientists
in the United Kingdom proposed that introducing peanuts early
in a childís life (at 7 to 11 months of age) may actually
protect a child from developing an allergy to peanuts.
the world did these scientists get the courage to do this
study? It began with an observation that children in Israel
ó where peanut-containing foods are introduced to infants
around 7 months of age ó have one-tenth the risk for peanut
allergy as Jewish children who live in the United Kingdom
(where peanut products are not typically fed to infants during
their first year of life).
study named Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP),
scientists recruited infants with severe egg allergy or eczema
(red, swollen itchy skin) or both. Two groups were studied:
infants who tested positive for peanut allergy on a skin prick
test and those who did not. Within these groups, half avoided
peanut products until they were five years old; the other half
were given small doses of a peanut protein product during the
same time period.
end of five years, 13.7 percent of the group that avoided
peanuts were allergic to peanuts while only 1.9 percent of the
protein consumption group was allergic.
surprising results highlight that we still donít completely
understand how food affects our immune function. Even more
surprising was that those who avoided peanuts early in life
had more peanut allergies than those who consumed them.
is warranted, however. This study was done under extremely
controlled conditions and with medical supervision. Any child
at risk for allergies should be followed closely by a skilled
physician. We donít want any surprises.