Giving young children small amounts of peanuts can prevent them from developing a peanut allergy in later life, according to a new study.
Findings of research of 600 children aged between four and 11 months appeared to contradict traditional wisdom about how to avoid the potentially fatal condition.
The children studied were at high risk of developing peanut allergies but when they were given a regular diet of at least 6g of peanut protein per week they appeared to be protected from developing the immune reaction.
The children, who already suffered from eczema or egg allergy and so were prone to developing a peanut allergy, were split into two groups.
One followed existing advice and avoided peanut protein, while the rest of the children were fed a regular diet of peanut protein.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that by the age of five, some 17 per cent of the children in the avoidance groups had developed peanut allergy, compared with 3 per cent in the exposure group.
Professor Gideon Lack, of King's College London, said: "For decades, allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies.
"Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise of peanut and other food allergies."
Peanut allergies, which have doubled over the past few decades and affect about one per cent of the population, can cause hives, abdominal pain and severe anaphylaxis, which can kill if left untreated.
Professor Lack added: "This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines.
"While these were withdrawn in 2008 in the UK and US, our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children.
"The study also excluded infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy; the safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study.
The co-investigator of the study, Dr George Du Toit, a consultant in paediatric allergy at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and an honorary senior lecturer at King's College London, said: " [We] will continue to monitor those children who consumed peanut to see if they remain protected against allergy even if they stop consuming peanut for 12 months."
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