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Avoid peanut allergy through early consumption of peanuts?
Peanut allergies are among the most common allergies, which is why increased preventive measures have been discussed and implemented in recent years. These included nutritional recommendations that advise avoiding peanuts during pregnancy, lactation and in infancy. Nevertheless, peanut allergies have continued to increase sharply in the past ten years. Now, a comprehensive study by British researchers has come to the conclusion that the early consumption of peanuts does not increase the risk of allergies, but instead significantly reduces them.
The groundbreaking new findings from allergy research suggest that contact with potential allergens in children helps to protect against allergies instead of increasing the risk of allergies. The researchers believe that previous recommendations that advise pregnant women and young children to have as little contact with allergens as possible must be fundamentally revised. The widely advised avoidance of peanuts may have played a major role in the increase in peanut allergies in the past ten years. In Germany, around 0.5 percent of children are currently affected by a peanut allergy, reports the news agency "dpa", citing Prof. Kirsten Beyer from the Berlin Charité. Twenty years ago, there were hardly any peanut allergies in Germany.
Breakthrough in allergy research The research team led by Professor Gideon Lack from Kings College London presented the results of the so-called LEAP study (LEAP = Learning Early About Peanut Allergy) to the general meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and referred them to the public on their importance for future allergy prevention. The Univ. – Prof. Zsolt Szepfalusi from the University Children's Clinic at the MedUni Vienna quotes "Kurier.at" with the statement that "there has been no such breakthrough in allergy research in the past 30 or 40 years". The study was published in the renowned “New England Journal of Medicine”.
Doubling of peanut allergies in the past ten years As part of the LEAP study, the scientists of the Immune Tolerance Network have analyzed the effects of early consumption of peanuts on the subsequent allergy risk over the years. The results of the first randomized study on the prevention of food allergy by including allergens in a large cohort of high-risk children are now available, report Professor Lack and colleagues. Basically, the peanut allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body's immune system to harmless peanut proteins in the diet. Symptoms include nettle fever, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, or even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. So far, the assumption was that the contact caused an increasing allergy risk, the researchers report. But although avoidance of peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childhood is often recommended, the prevalence of peanut allergies has doubled in the United States and other countries over the past decade.
More than 600 children with a high allergy risk examined The researchers in the LEAP study therefore hypothesized that regular consumption of peanut-containing products in childhood causes a protective immune response instead of an allergic immune reaction. The study divided over 600 children between the ages of four and eleven months at high risk of peanut allergy into two groups. One group regularly received peanut-containing snacks, while the other completely avoided peanuts. Up to the age of five, the researchers observed the allergy development in the children of both groups. The subsequent comparison made clear the preventive effect of early allergen exposure.
Early consumption of peanuts prevents peanut allergies Of the children who avoided peanuts, 17 percent developed a peanut allergy by the age of 5, while only three percent of the children who received peanut snacks showed a peanut allergy, write Professor Lack and colleagues. Overall, the continued consumption of peanuts, beginning in the first eleven months of life, has contributed very effectively to preventing the development of peanut allergies in infants with a high allergy risk, the researchers report. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which co-financed the study, said the results had the potential to change our stance on food allergy prevention.
Avoidance of allergens Cause of the increase in allergies? "For decades, allergists have recommended that young infants avoid allergenic foods such as peanuts to prevent food allergies," but the recent "results suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the increase in peanut and other food allergies," he said Professor Lack. The results of the study are also rated by Prof. Kirsten Beyer as extremely exciting. "These are the first results of a large study that show that the early administration of highly allergenic substances can prevent allergy," quotes the "dpa" the expert. However, the results would first have to be checked in further studies before general recommendations can be derived from them.
Revision of nutritional recommendations required Allergologist Zsolt Szepfalusi explains to the "courier" that, in view of the new study results, "some serious changes are soon to be expected in the nutritional recommendations for allergy prevention for children". In principle, the overall strategy would have to be reversed. "Now we have to change our strategy even more towards early exposure to allergens," said Szepfalusi, who was only recently involved in presenting new allergy recommendations. These had already approved the inclusion of allergens in the complementary food, whereas previously there was a complete avoidance of the potential allergy triggers in pregnancy and in infancy. "Now we will probably put more emphasis on the fact that they should not only be allowed to do it, but should expressly", the "courier" quotes the allergist. According to the latest study results, this should particularly apply to children with a high allergy risk.
Improving allergy prevention Although the LEAP study explicitly refers to the risk of peanut allergy, the Szepfalusi hopes that the results can also be applied to other allergens such as milk, eggs and wheat. Overall, the new findings could not only contribute to a significant improvement in allergy prevention, according to the scientists of the Immune Tolerance Network. (fp)
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