Feeding your child peanuts from a young age can help reduce allergies later, new study claims

Child spreading peanut butter on crispbread eating sandwich wooden table home kitchen.School girl with bread slice wholegrain snack.Kid cooking breakfast Organic nutritious superfood healthy lifestyle�
Smooth peanut butter is a good way to introduce peanuts into your child's diet. (Getty Images)

Children need to be introduced to a big variety of foods from an early age, not just to ensure they are eating a healthy and nutritious diet, but also to protect their health in the future.

When it comes to peanut allergies, a new study has found that introducing children to peanuts from infancy is crucial to reduce the rate of an allergy developing in later life.

In the UK, peanut allergy affects between one in 50 of children and is a common cause of food allergy, according to Allergy UK. Only one in five children will outgrow their peanut allergy, which often develops in early childhood.

Researchers from King’s College London found that, among children who were introduced to peanuts from infancy till the age of five, they were 71% less likely to develop an allergy as teenagers compared to those who were not fed it when they were very young.

Up until 2008, parents were told to avoid giving children peanut products and other foods that may trigger allergic reactions. But the new research reveals that children benefit from being exposed to peanuts from an early age.

Professor Gideon Lack, lead investigator of the study, said: "Decades of advice to avoid peanuts has made parents fearful of introducing peanuts at an early age. The evidence is clear that early introduction of peanuts in infancy induces long-term tolerance and protects children from allergy well into adolescence.

"This simple intervention will make a remarkable difference to future generations and see peanut allergies plummet."

A cheerful babysitter looks after two baby twin boys eating a salty snack at the dining room table
Researchers recommend baby-friendly foods like peanut puffs to expose children to peanut products in early life. (Getty Images)

The study, which is part of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) clinical trial, asked half of participants to regularly consume peanut products from infancy until age five, while the other half were told to avoid peanuts during the same period.

The results were overwhelmingly positive in favour of giving peanut products to young children to reduce the risk of developing an allergy. Early introduction reduced the risk of peanut allergy at age five by 81%.

Children who ate peanut products as babies were significantly less likely to develop a peanut allergy, even if they avoided or ate few peanut products from the age of six to 12 or older.

The study’s co-lead investigator, Professor George Du Toit, also from King’s College London, said: "This is a safe and highly effective intervention which can be implemented as early as 4 months of age. The infant needs to be developmentally ready to start weaning and peanut should be introduced as a soft pureed paste or as peanut puffs."

This echoes the results of a 2023 study led by Professor Graham Roberts at Southampton University. Prof Roberts found that introducing peanuts early in an infant’s diet reduces the risk of developing a peanut allergy in high-risk infants, particularly those with severe eczema.

He found that there was an estimated 77% reduction in peanut allergy incidence when the food was introduced to infants at four months of age with eczema and at six months without eczema.

Watch: Scientists Say Giving The Food To Babies Could Protect Them

Margaret Kelman, acting head of clinical services for Allergy UK, said: "For expectant parents and parents of young infants, there will hopefully be a change in advice around weaning, especially for infants who are considered at high risk of allergy.

"For those considering the introduction of peanut products at around four months, we believe it is important to do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Notwithstanding, this latest research supports previous studies which show that adopting this practice could potentially lead to the reduction in the incidence of peanut allergy among the food allergic population."

Researchers at King’s College London estimate that 100,000 cases of peanut allergies can be prevented globally every year. They suggested starting to give infants peanut products from four months old if possible, as food allergies tend to emerge after this age.

Peanut allergies, as well as other food allergies, develop when our immune system “overreacts” to certain types of food, according to the NHS. It is unclear why it happens, and certain foods are more likely to trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Little boy eating peanuts at a table in a restaurant
Peanut allergies are becoming more common globally. (Getty Images)

The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are:

  • Cow’s milk

  • Eggs

  • Peanuts, soybeans, peas and chickpeas

  • Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts

  • Shellfish

  • Wheat

People with allergies may get symptoms immediately after eating the food they are allergic to, but sometimes symptoms can manifest days alter.

Common symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Itchy skin or a raised rash

  • Swelling of the lips, face and eyes

  • Coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, noisy breathing, or a hoarse voice

  • Sneezing

  • Itchy, runny and blocked nose

  • Feeling sick or being sick

  • Stomach pain

  • Diarrhoea

You must call 999 if you or someone you are with is experiencing signs of a serious allergic reaction. These include:

  • Lips, mouth, throat or tongue becoming swollen suddenly

  • Breathing very fast or struggling to breathe

  • Throat feels tight or struggling to swallow

  • Skin, tongue or lips turn blue, grey or pale - for people with black or brown skin, this may be easier to see on the palms or soles of the feet

  • Suddenly becoming very confused, drowsy or dizzy

  • Fainting and unable to wake up

  • A child becoming limp, floppy or not responding like they normally do

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