For many children in recent years, severe peanut allergies have turned seemingly safe spaces like elementary school cafeterias, restaurants, and airplanes into mine fields. While allergies have always been around in some form, peanut allergy diagnoses have tripled since 1995, prompting scientists to race to study causes, treatments, and cures. In 2015, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study claiming early exposure to peanuts could reduce the risk of developing the allergy by 80 percent. And now, in a follow-up study of the same children, researchers have found even more evidence to support that theory.
According to BBC News, the new study, also published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that of the 550 children in the study, those exposed to peanut snacks within the first eleven months of life have a reduced risk of developing peanut allergies—even if, at age five, they stop eating peanuts for an entire year. While the 2015 study tested the effects of early peanut consumption on the future development of allergies, the 2016 study specifically considered what happens when children stop consuming peanuts at age five.
Together, the studies indicate that peanut allergies can be curbed, in most cases, early in life. Moreover, researchers found that the rate of peanut allergy among the children at age 6 was almost four times higher among the participants in the peanut-avoidance group than among those in the peanut-consumption group (18.6 percent versus 4.8 percent).
These results have significant implications for future generations of children. "I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance," Researcher Gideon Lack told BBC News. “[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting."
[h/t BBC News]