Nutty news: Peanut allergies could be prevented in infancy
The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a five-year study entitled “Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy,” which claims that feeding infants from the ages of four to 11 months small doses of peanuts can actually greatly reduce or even eliminate their chance of developing peanut allergies, even taking into account genetic and other risk factors. This is a truly landmark discovery, as the article reports that “the prevalence of peanut allergy among children in Western countries has doubled in the past 10 years, and peanut allergy is becoming apparent in Africa and Asia.”
The study first separated its 640 subjects into two groups: those who would be exposed to six grams of peanut protein per week over five years and those who would not. Both groups had a mix of subjects who had shown initial reaction to peanuts and those who had not.
The results were quite significant: “Amongst the kids who had shown a reaction to peanuts at the start of the trial and were exposed to peanuts during the following five years, only 10.6 percent developed an allergy, versus 35.3 percent of those who had not been exposed,” informs Quartz writer Annalisa Merelli.
The infants who had tested negative to the peanut allergy in the beginning of the study showed even greater results: “Only 1.9 percent of those who were fed peanuts developed an allergy, versus 13.7 percent of those who weren’t,” Merelli went on to report.
Interestingly, this study contradicts medical advice from as recently as 2013. The UK National Health Services website, in an April 2013 medical review, stated quite clearly that peanuts are allowed to be served to children only at the age of six months, and only if your family does not have a history of food or other allergies. Now it seems future reviews may say differently.
“I found it interesting how scientists would use a vaccination concept of disease control to help reduce the likelihood of peanut allergies,” commented student Nathan Wong ’17.
Indeed, if you think about it, the concept of desensitizing humans to diseases through exposure to the irritant is not a new one. The notion of Mithridatism reflects just that — it is the exercise of self-protection against a toxin by gradually administering non-fatal doses and has been found to be successful against various snake venoms and, yes, peanut allergies.
These new peanut studies also reflect previous research into inoculation against poison oak, poison ivy and sumac; however, a human-viable vaccine has still not been produced after the two years since that research was first widely publicized. The only difference is the age of introduction.
Nevertheless, this study will hopefully prove helpful in helping to eliminate peanut allergies once and for all. Just imagine the impact a change like this could enact on our society — that guy Remy from “The DaVinci Code” (spoiler alert!) wouldn’t have died! Perhaps more importantly, this peanut-allergic author would have been able to taste that famed Holy Grail of cherished childhood nostalgia: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
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