Food allergy research is continuing to evolve and change the way healthcare practitioners and consumers are thinking about peanuts. Here are the hottest research studies you must know about, regarding peanut allergy managing risk, and treatment as well as the latest update on food allergy data.
Early Introduction Can Reduce Peanut Allergy
In 2015, Dr. Gideon Lack of King’s College, London led the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study, which was conducted to determine if early introduction of peanuts could prevent peanut allergies. The researchers randomly assigned 640 infants at high risk (with severe eczema and/or egg allergy) to avoid or consume peanuts until they were 60 months old. They found early introduction of peanuts was associated with 86 percent risk reduction of allergy development in high-risk children between the ages of 4 and 11 months old.
Piggy-backing on the LEAP study was the Persistence of Oral Tolerance to Peanut (LEAP-On) study in 2016, also led by Lack. This time, the goal was to investigate if the rates of peanut allergy development changed without continuing to consume peanuts. Peanut-consuming participants from the LEAP study continued as part of the LEAP-On study, but avoided peanut consumption for 12 months, while the non-peanut consuming participants continued avoidance for the same 12-month period. Researchers found that participants in the LEAP peanut-avoidance group developed more peanut allergies than the peanut-consumption group. In other words, the LEAP-On study concluded that a year-long avoidance of peanuts by children who had early introduction is not associated with an increased allergy risk, and so tolerance was not dependent on consumption to be maintained.
“Parents of high risk children should feel more confident, and perhaps even elated, that they can reduce their child’s potential risk of allergy to peanut through early introduction,” said pediatrician Dr. JJ Levenstein. As for children who are not high-risk, she recommends following the AAP’s recommendations to offer all complementary foods (including potential allergens) in the first year of life.
Lack also led the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study to determine if the introduction of the six common food allergens (list the allergens) into the diets of infants who are not high-risk, starting at 3 months old, results in less food allergy development over three years. Researchers split 1,303 mothers and their infants into two groups, one who exclusively breastfed for six months and one who continued to breastfeed while introducing food allergens. By the end of three years, researchers found that allergies were significantly lower risk (67 percent) of peanut (and egg) allergies in the early introduction group. Specifically, researchers found that peanut allergies were reduced when infants consumed the recommended amount, which was 1.5 teaspoons of peanut butter per week.
Skin Patch May Help Treat Peanut Allergies
Researchers with the Consortium of Food Allergy Research published a study on the safety and efficacy of an epicutaneous patch, or the peanut patch. In the double-blinded and randomized study, 74 participants with peanut allergy were given one of three treatments – placebo, or 100 mcg peanut protein or 250 mcg peanut protein (both in a patch).
At the end of the study, they found that 46 to 48 percent of participants had an increased tolerance of peanuts, as compared to 12 percent in the placebo group. The study showed that the patch was not entirely successful at establishing tolerance to peanuts, but there was improvement in the amount of peanut that was tolerated by participants. Plus, allergic reactions to the peanut protein were minimal.
Moving forward, more research is needed to determine whether or not the patch will be useful for peanut allergy treatment.
Controlled Peanut Exposure Could Help Peanut Tolerance
In August 2016, a study was conducted to test the safety and effectiveness of Oral Immunotherapy (OIT), which involves administering small amounts food allergens slowly and steadily increasing amounts until desensitization. Dr. Brian P. Vickery, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led the study, which included 40 infants and toddlers (9 to 36 months old) with peanut allergy. They received low doses (300mg) or high doses (3,000 mg) of peanut protein each day for at least one year. By the end of the treatment, 81 percent of children were desensitized to peanut protein, including 85 percent of the low-dose group and 76 percent of the high-dose group. Although more OIT studies are still necessary and underway, this study suggests OIT may be more easily and durably corrected in young children with peanut allergies.
Lack of Data Makes Food Allergy Management Difficult
Although there is widespread information available about the diagnosis, management and treatment of food allergies today, the public, media and health providers frequently give misinformation or misinterpret a food allergy and its symptoms, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Nov. 30. The National Peanut Board was one of 11 sponsors of the consensus report Finding a Path to Safety in Food Allergy: Assessment of the Global Burden, Causes, Prevention, Management, and Public Policy, authored by an expert ad hoc committee. The report identifies actions needed to improve the food allergy safety landscape in the U.S., including better research and diagnostic tools, and more effective educational approaches to food allergies.
 Du toit G, Roberts G, Sayre PH, et al. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk for peanut allergy. N Engl J Med. 2015;372(9):803-13.
 Du toit G, Sayre PH, Roberts G, et al. Effect of Avoidance on Peanut Allergy after Early Peanut Consumption. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(15):1435-43.
 Perkin MR, Logan K, Tseng A, et al. Randomized Trial of Introduction of Allergenic Foods in Breast-Fed Infants. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(18):1733-43.