Are we being to hygenic and being too soft on the kinds of foods that we introduce to our children? You wouldn’t believe what the LEAP study has to say about feeding our infants peanuts and what it means for helping children to avoid peanut allergies!

The Learning About Peanut (LEAP) Study

Growing up in the 80’s/90’s I don’t really recall peanuts causing such havoc in small children. Fast forward to now and it seems like peanuts are taking out revenge on children across the West – in the form of peanut allergies. My wife who works as a school counselor has even noticed a sharp increase in the number of children who have sensitivities to peanuts. Things are so bad that nut products won’t even be allowed in the classroom because of the risk of children on the school campus having a severe allergic reaction.

If you don’t want to eat peanuts because they’re a legume – I get it. Don’t eat them then. But a lot of other people out there enjoy peanuts. The problem is over the years more and more children have been developing peanut allergies. Is it because the standard American diet is so poor that eating peanuts is enough to trigger an allergic response? Maybe it’s all the other ingredients that peanuts can be mixed with in that cause problems (like M&M’s). For whatever reason (and nobody really knows), peanut allergies have been on the rise.

Then there thew Jewish children – specifically in the United Kingdom who are ten times more likely to have a peanut allergy as compared with Jewish children living in Israel who are of similar ancestry. Why? Good question. In looking as to why children living in the United Kingdom were having such a rough time with peanuts researchers decided to form the LEAP study and publish it in the New England Journal Of Medicine.

Trying to understand why, researchers found that in Israel peanuts are introduced to the diet around seven months of age and in the United Kingdom, peanuts are rarely introduced into the diet by twelve months of age. Could this make a difference?

A study sponsored by the United States National Institute Of Allergy and Infectious Disease developed a study that followed six hundred forty children between the ages of four and eleven months of age for five years. The study found that 17.2 percent of the children who avoided peanuts until age five ended up with a peanut allergy. For those that regularly ate peanuts, only 3.2 percent had peanut allergies.

LEAP Study Design

The children selected for the LEAP study were first screened for a pre-existing peanut allergy through a skin-prick test then put into two groups. About 85 percent of the children had no pre-existing allergy and made up one group while those who showed they already had an allergy were put into another group. The LEAP study then randomly assigned the children to completely avoid peanuts or to regularly consume them. Those who regularly ate peanuts ate two grams of peanut protein (about eight peanuts) three times a week.

Those who showed no sign of a peanut allergy at the start of the LEAP study and avoided peanuts, 13.7 percent of them went on to develop a peanut allergy. In the group that ate peanuts, only 1.9 percent developed an allergy. For the group of children that already had a pre-existing sensitivity to peanuts when the LEAP study started, they also had less of a risk for developing a peanut allergy. The children who were predisposed to have a peanut allergy and given peanuts at a young age only had a 10.6 percent chance of developing a peanut allergy while those who stayed away from nuts had a 35.3 percent chance of developing a peanut allergy.

What Does The LEAP Study Mean?

For years the general concensus in the medical community has been that avoidance is better. Current research is indicating that this may not be the case and that we have become so hygenic and avoiding so many things, it’s drastically had a negative effect on developing our immune system – meaning we may need to be exposed to more things to keep our immune system stronger.

Most pediatric doctors are now recommending allergy sensitivity testing starting at four to eight months of age. It’s recommended that those with a sensitivity to peanuts be started on a trial of peanuts to see if an allergic reaction does actually take place.

On a side note: current research has also shown that consuming peanuts while pregnant and breastfeeding puts your child at a lower risk for developing peanut allergies.

Sources:

1. Bahnson, H., Basting, M., Brough, H., Du Toit, G., Feeney, M., Lack, G., Lorenzo, M., Phippard, D., Plaut, M Radulovic, S., Roberts, G., Santos, A., Sayre, P., Sever, M., Turcanu., S. “Randomized Trial Of Peanut Consumption In Infants At Risk For Peanut Allergy.” New England Journal Of Medicine. 26 February 2015. Web. 2 April 2015.