It has been a very interesting week for the allergy world!
News broke on Monday morning of the LEAP study into peanut allergy, and the ground-breaking development that the risk of peanut allergy could be significantly reduced by changing current methodologies.
640 patients aged 4-11 months were involved in the study, and were chosen as they were considered at ‘high-risk’ of developing peanut allergy due to suffering with severe eczema and/or egg allergy.
Patients were split into 2 groups, half of which were asked to eat peanut protein contained in 3 or more meals, each week. Whole nuts were not used, due to the risk of choking in small children. The other half of the group were asked to avoid nuts until the age of 5. Questionnaires were completed by all families involved on a regular basis.
The results of the study suggest that peanuts introduced to the diet of ‘at-risk’ babies from 4 months onwards significantly reduced the chances of them developing a peanut allergy by the age of 5. When they say significant, it really is. It is believed to reduce the chance by as much as 80%!
Seeing as peanut allergy is one of the most prevalent of allergies, and the number of people, particularly children, becoming affected is increasing significantly year on year, it’s almost too good to be true.
The method used during the study is portrayed as quite radical, but is it?
If something is suddenly introduced to a diet, where previously it hadn’t existed, there is always going to be a chance that the body will have an adverse reaction to it due to it being ‘foreign’. The thought processes behind it are that introducing to the diet early on, will most likely ensure there is little or no reaction.
It makes sense!
I said as much to my father-in-law, who immediately responded with:
‘Well I didn’t come into contact with peanuts until I was at least 8 due to the rationing after the war, and I’ve not become allergic, nor had any reaction when I tried it, nor did my older brother, cousins, or any of my school friends!’
I guess he has a point. But then again, it’s just as possible that he isn’t a person likely to develop allergies, so was never going to have a reaction.
There are some people that will always be more predisposed to allergies, just like Callum. No-one truly knows the reasons why, and that’s why studies like this are crucial to help us understand allergies more, and learn how to control them better, or even better, to pre-empt like this study suggests.
As the parent of a child with a severe nut and peanut allergy, and owner of an allergy focused business, I have read the details with much interest, and am very keen to see how this progresses!
For me, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, but for now, I do remain slightly sceptical, particularly because many other factors need to be taken into consideration such as in terms of other allergies already discovered in patients, family history and so on. It will be interesting to see how the patients progress in the coming years, and whether any do go on to present with allergic responses later on. I will keep everything crossed that they remain allergen free!!
There is a flip side to this study though, as is sadly always the case. For many years, the advice given to parents has been:
- Avoid peanuts until at least the age of 2
- Avoid consuming during pregnancy
- Avoid consuming whilst breastfeeding
As a result of the news breaking of this study, I have seen numerous posts, tweets, and articles focusing on the guilt that parents the world over are now feeling, as well as anger and frustration. They have diligently listened to advice given by GPs/ Consultants/ Health Visitors to keep their little ones safe and away from any potential danger to nut exposure/ ingestion, and now the advice could be about to change, advising people to do the exact opposite.
It’s conflicting for sure, and an alien concept to get your head around when you’ve become so used to doing the opposite it’s second nature!
The articles currently in circulation have been part of many people’s discussions, unsurprisingly, and they are bringing up a whole host of emotions for many!
Parents who have children suffering with allergies, particularly peanut mustn’t beat themselves up. It’s very new information, and there’s much more research to be done. They most certainly haven’t done anything ‘wrong’. Life with an allergic child is tough, bloody tough. Blaming yourself for not ‘protecting’ your little one following the information that is coming out with this study is not going to help anyone!
Importantly, parents mustn’t start changing the way they wean their children, particularly if they suffer with eczema and/ or egg allergy. They should seek medical advice before applying this sort of introduction to their little ones diet. The study was conducted in a safe and controlled way, with medical assistance available in case of reaction.
We as allergy parents battle the odds daily, and ultimately, as long as our children are safe, happy and not reacting, then surely we’re doing something right!
Articles covering details such as this study do tend to arm ill-equipped people with information. Unfortunately it does mean that some people then want to give you suggestions, when perhaps they have little or no experience on the subject, which can prove challenging!
I have, myself, been on the receiving end of unhelpful ‘advice’ from people who simply don’t get what it is like to have a child with severe allergies and the daily battle you face to keep them well. The advice is given with the best of intentions, for sure, but when you get told:
‘maybe Callum would be better if you’d given him a little bit of nut when you were weaning him, and not been so strict with his diet with the other stuff…’
Quite frankly, it takes all my will power not to hit them, and I am not a violent person by nature!
It was when we were in the midst of trying to figure out the allergies that were making Callum so very poorly, that we gave him a chocolate roulade at a year old, with sweetened chestnut purée in it (not knowing what we know now with regards to his allergies, and still very naïve) and he suffered an instant severe reaction. He now has an epi-pen as a result!
Callum looks much better today than he did before, because of being so strict and careful with his diet, and getting rid of the very things that were making him ill. So, people (not medically trained!) suggesting after months and months of elimination, trial, error, tears, frustration, despair and more, that giving him exactly what makes him so severely ill would have made him better, does take the biscuit somewhat!
That aside, the study does give hope to future generations, that maybe just maybe, the battle against peanut allergy could be about to improve. I for one think George du Toit and his colleagues have certainly set the benchmark for how allergies are managed in years to come and I’m excited to see what more will be found out in the future!
And who knows, perhaps other allergies may have ground-breaking developments like this too.
This allergy mum is definitely hoping so!!