The introduction of peanuts to infants at risk for developing a peanut allergy does not have a negative impact on growth or nutrition, nor does it affect the duration of breastfeeding, according to new findings published online June 10 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
In this study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) with additional support by FARE and others, researchers sought to evaluate the impact – if any – of regular peanut consumption on growth, nutrition and diet of the infants enrolled in the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) Study.
“While these new findings are secondary to the groundbreaking work of the LEAP Study, it’s critically important to establish that forthcoming feeding guidance for the prevention of peanut allergy will not have any detrimental effect on a child’s nutrition and growth,” said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO and chief medical officer of FARE.
Previously published findings of the LEAP Study showed that early introduction of peanuts prevents the development of peanut allergy among high-risk infants, who were defined in this clinical trial as infants with eczema or egg allergy.
In the LEAP Study, funded by FARE and NIAID and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2015, researchers found that introducing peanut to high-risk infants as early as 4 months of age resulted in an 81 percent relative reduction in peanut allergy compared to avoidance of peanut.
The dietary intervention in the LEAP Study recommended a weekly intake of 6 g of peanut protein via a peanut snack product (equivalent to about 3 teaspoons of peanut butter) for the infants enrolled in the consumption group.
In their follow-up work, researchers compared the growth, nutrition and diets of those enrolled in the trial. Among their findings:
- Introducing peanut did not result in a significantly shorter duration of breastfeeding in the consumption group. As the authors note, “This is important due to concerns that introduction of solid foods before age 6 months will reduce breast-feeding duration.”
- There were no differences observed in weight, height, BMI or other measurements between the consumption and avoidance groups.
- Both groups had similar total energy intakes from food and protein intake was consistent, although the peanut consumers had higher fat intakes and avoiders had higher carbohydrate intakes.
New feeding guidelines for prevention of peanut allergy based on the LEAP Study are expected to be released in the next year by the NIAID. It should be noted that these guidelines will differ from current World Health Organization (WHO) advice, which recommend infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
“The striking finding that early inclusion of peanut products in the diet reduces later development of allergy already is beginning to transform how clinicians approach peanut allergy prevention,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, in a NIAID press release. “The new results provide reassurance that early-life peanut consumption has no negative effect on children’s growth and nutrition.”
The authors conclude that peanut consumption as a strategy for the prevention of peanut allergy is nutritionally safe, and note that caregivers should be advised regarding feeding of suitable peanut products to ensure uptake and avoid choking risks in young children.