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Study shows avoiding peanuts may increase allergy risk

October 30, 2008 | 10:16 am

Peanut1It's getting harder to know what to do about peanut allergies. In the past, health experts generally recommended avoidance of peanuts during pregnancy, breast-feeding and infancy. But a study published today in the November issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggests that it may be better to be exposed to peanuts early in life.

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Israel studied 8,600 Jewish school-age children in the U.K. and Israel to assess the prevalence of peanut allergy. They also asked mothers about the children's peanut consumption at ages 4 months through 24 months. The groups in the U.K. and Israel were similar in genetic, environmental and socioeconomic characteristics. They found that children who avoided peanuts in infancy were 10 times as likely to develop peanut allergy as those who were exposed to peanuts. Overall, children in the United Kingdom had a much higher prevalence of peanut allergy compared to those in Israel. However, by 9 months of age, 69% of the children in Israel had been exposed to peanuts compared to only 10% in the United Kingdom.

American health officials caution that there isn't enough evidence to recommend early exposure to peanuts. Peanut allergies in the United States have increased dramatically, doubling between 1997 and 2002. Peanut allergies can be life-threatening.

"While this study's findings provide optimism for prevention of peanut allergy in the future, randomized, controlled trials are needed to verify that early induction of peanut is indeed effective," said Dr. Jacqueline A. Pongracic, vice chair of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's committee on adverse reactions to foods. A large, randomized study is underway in the United Kingdom that tests the effects of early peanut exposure.

In a study published online Tuesday, also by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and reported Wednesday in Booster Shots, researchers found they could desensitize children with milk allergies by giving them progressively higher doses of milk protein.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Gary Friedman /Los Angeles Times