(CN) - Feeding peanuts to infants can help them avoid developing peanut allergies later in childhood, a new report from the National Institutes of Health shows.
A clinical trial supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) showed an 81 percent reduction in the development of peanut allergies when the food is introduced into infants' diets.
Gideon Lack, M.D., of King's College London designed the study, called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP), to explore the lower observed incidence of the allergy among Israeli children compared with Jewish children who live in the United Kingdom.
The study confirmed the hypothesis that because Israeli children eat more peanuts earlier in life, they are less likely to become allergic to them.
"For a study to show a benefit of this magnitude in the prevention of peanut allergy is without precedent," NIAID director Anthony Fauci, M.D., said in a statement. "The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention."
Researchers selected 600 infants between the ages of 4 months and 11 months for the study and randomly separated them into two groups. The children were at risk for peanut allergy because they already had an egg allergy and/or severe eczema.
One of the groups consumed at least 6 grams of peanut protein per week, while the other group was not given any peanuts.
When the children were tested at the age of 5, the group that ate peanuts throughout early childhood saw an 81 percent reduction in peanut allergies.
Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation, noted that previous studies have show no benefit from allergen avoidance.
"The LEAP study is the first to show that early introduction of dietary peanut is actually beneficial and identifies an effective approach to manage a serious public health problem," Rotrosen added.
All of the children in the study will be asked to avoid peanuts for one more year, and then they will be tested again.
The New England Journal of Medicine published the findings Monday, and the NIH also presented them that day at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
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