London (BBN)-Eating peanut products as a baby dramatically cuts the risk of allergy, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests.
Trials on 628 babies prone to developing peanut allergy found the risk was cut by over 80%, reports BBC.
The King’s College London researchers said it was the “first time” that allergy development had been reduced.
But specialists warned at-risk families should not experiment with peanut products without medical advice.
The research team in London had previously found that Jewish children in Israel who started eating peanuts earlier in life had allergy levels 10 times lower than their equivalents in the UK.
The trial focused on babies as young as four months who had already developed eczema – an early warning sign of allergies.
Skin-prick tests were used to identify those who had not yet developed peanut allergy or had only a very mild response.
Children under five should not eat whole peanuts, because of the risk of choking, so half were given a peanut-based snack.
The other half continued avoiding peanuts.
The trial indicated that for every 100 children, 14 would normally go on to develop an allergy by the age of five.
But this fell by 86% to just two out of every 100 children with the therapy.
Even the children who were already becoming sensitive to peanuts benefited. Their allergy rates fell from 35% to 11%.
Lead researcher Prof Gideon Lack told the BBC: “[It was] exciting to us to realise for the first time that in allergy, we can actually truly prevent the development of disease.
“It represents a real shift in culture.”
He said that high-risk children “need to be evaluated, have skin-prick testing and dietary advice, [before], in most cases, early introduction of peanut”.
Prof Lack added: “We realise this goes very much contrary to previous advice, but it is very much essential that we direct our attention to this group of infants and stem this growing epidemic of peanut allergy.”
Until 2008, at-risk families were told to actively avoid peanut products and other sources of allergic reactions.