Xantha Leatham Deputy Science Editor, Daily Mail
Updated: 16.22 17.3.2023
Experts say that parents should introduce their children to peanut products from the age of four months to prevent them from developing allergies.
The number of people suffering from allergic reactions to nuts has tripled in recent decades, and in severe cases the consequences can be fatal.
About one in 50 children now suffer from the disease, leading to a lifelong concern about food ingredients.
But researchers in the UK have found a “window of opportunity” between four and six months of age, which they say is the best time to introduce the nutrient to babies.
And this could reduce the incidence of peanut allergies by up to 77 percent, they said.
The team from King’s College London and the University of Southampton said most peanut allergies have already developed by the time a child turns one.
They looked at data from the Inquiring About Tolerance (EAT) and Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) studies.
The Leap study involved 640 infants at high risk of developing a peanut allergy and examined the early introduction of peanut products.
The Eat project recruited over 1,300 three-month-old babies in England and Wales. They were followed for several years to study early exposure to six allergenic foods—milk, peanut, sesame, fish, egg, and wheat.
An analysis published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revealed that it was best to introduce peanut products to babies between 4 and 6 months of age.
WHAT IS ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK?
Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can kill within minutes.
It is a serious and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.
The reaction can often be triggered by certain foods, including peanuts and shellfish.
However, some medications, bee stings, and even the latex used in condoms can also cause a life-threatening reaction.
According to the NHS, it happens when the immune system overreacts to a trigger.
Symptoms include: dizziness or fainting; difficulty breathing – such as rapid, shallow breathing; wheezing; fast heartbeat; clammy skin; confusion and anxiety and collapse or loss of consciousness.
It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Insect bites are not dangerous to most victims, but a person does not necessarily have to have an existing medical condition to be at risk.
The gradual accumulation of injections can cause a person to become allergic, whose subsequent injection triggers an anaphylactic reaction.
This could reduce the incidence of peanut allergies by 77 percent compared to just 33 percent if peanuts are introduced when the child is one year old.
They added that babies at higher risk of developing allergies – for example, if they already have eczema – should start closer to four months.
The NHS currently says that nuts and peanuts can be introduced from around six months of age as long as they are crushed, ground or smooth nut or peanut butter.
Based on their findings, the researchers called on the government to review the latest evidence.
Lead author Professor Graham Roberts said: “Current guidelines suggest that peanuts should be introduced from around six months of age.
“The last government report on adding the food to babies’ diets was published in 2018. Since then, a number of studies have been published showing that earlier introduction of peanuts and other foods can help prevent the development of allergies.
“We think the government should review the current guidelines on when peanuts should be introduced into babies’ diets. We think peanuts should be introduced earlier if children are developmentally ready for solids.
He explained that a peanut allergy occurs when the body perceives peanuts as dangerous and reacts to them.
“The reaction can affect the whole body – your lips can swell, you can get an itchy rash and you can start having trouble breathing,” he said.
“A baby’s immune system must learn to distinguish between food and dangerous insects that must be kept out of the body.
“The body does this through the way it sees things. If it sees peanuts in reasonably large amounts in the gut, it will see this as a safe food and it won’t develop an allergy.”
Pediatric nutritionist Mary Feeney from King’s College London said their findings show that giving babies a teaspoon of peanut butter three times a week is the recommended amount to prevent them from becoming allergic to it.
She warned that whole or chopped nuts should never be given to babies or preschoolers because of the choking hazard.
And babies should be developmentally ready to start eating solid foods when peanut products are introduced, she added.
Professor Gideon Lack, from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The benefits of adding peanut products to babies’ diets diminish as they get older.
“This reflects the experience in Israel, a culture where peanut products are usually included early in the diet of infants and peanut allergy is rare.
“There is a narrow chance of preventing the development of an allergy.
“Introducing peanut products at the age of 4-6 months could significantly reduce the number of children who develop a peanut allergy.”
A nine-year-old girl was the first to benefit from the life-changing peanut allergy treatment
Children suffering from peanut allergies across the country are the first in Europe to receive life-changing treatment.
NHS England has contracted Palforzia, an immunotherapy pill to help reduce the severity of symptoms, including anaphylaxis, after a reaction to peanuts.
Evelina London Children’s Hospital took part in two major peanut allergy trials – the Palisade and Artemis trials.
Sophie Pratt said her family’s life had changed since her daughter Emily, 9, attended the Palisade trial.
He said: “Participating in a clinical trial has been life-changing for our whole family. The treatment we’ve received has meant Emily is free from boundaries and the fear that the slightest mistake could put her life at risk, and it’s taken away all the tension and worry that came with just the act of eating every day.
“It was particularly noticeable on special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and public holidays, where there are often special foods such as cakes, ice cream and treats, which always have warnings, ‘may contain peanuts’ or a menu that is not in English.
“Since the trial, Emily can go to parties and dates with confidence, eat in restaurants without us having to call ahead to check the menu, and we’ve managed to spend her first holiday abroad in New York and even attend an animal feeding. in zoo experiences – which is Emily’s passion.
“We couldn’t be more grateful.”
The Artemis study found that about six in 10 4- to 17-year-olds who responded to about 10 grams of peanut protein at the start of the trial were able to ingest it by the end of the 1,000 mg dose, well above the amount of inadvertent exposure.
Up to 600 children between the ages of 4 and 17 are expected to be treated this year, and England will be the first in Europe to be treated due to the contract made by the NHS. After that, approximately 2,000 are treated per year.
Currently, peanut allergies affect one in 50 children in the UK.
NHS Chief Medical Officer Professor Stephen Powis said: “This ground-breaking treatment has the potential to change the lives of patients and their families, and thanks to the NHS agreement, people will be the first to benefit in Europe.
“It reduces fear and anxiety for patients and their families who may have lived with this allergy for years and carry emergency medications just in case.
“They should be able to enjoy meals abroad or vacation abroad together without having to worry about an allergic reaction that could lead to hospitalization or worse.”
Professor George du Toit, pediatric allergy consultant at Evelina London, was the senior researcher in the UK for both trials.
He said: “This is great news for children and young people with peanut allergy. Palforzia’s approval is a major step forward in improving the care of people with allergies, and we now have access to the first treatment licensed to reduce the severity of this allergy and protect against accidental exposure to peanuts.
“This has a huge impact on the daily lives of our patients and their families.”