Feeding a child peanuts regularly from the age of 11 months can drastically reduce the risk of them developing a peanut allergy later in life, scientists have discovered.
Children at risk of developing a peanut allergy can cut the chance by 80% through regular consumption, researchers have discovered.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, contradict previous recommendations about peanut allergies, which states high-risk children should avoid foods that cause reactions.
One in 50 UK school children are now allergic to peanuts, doubling in the last decade. It is estimated that between 1 and 3% of children in Western Europe, US and Australia are allergic to peanuts.
An international team of researchers studied 640 children aged between four and 11 months who were considered at risk of being allergic because of pre-existing conditions.
Half of the children were asked to eat peanuts three or more times per week, while the others were asked to avoid them until they were five years old.
Less than 1% of the peanut-eating group that adhered to the study strictly developed an allergy by the age of five, whereas 17.3% of the peanut-less group did. Findings showed eating peanuts led to an 80% reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy.
The authors conclude that eating peanuts from an early age is safe and is associated with a significant drop in the development of allergy among high-risk infants. They also question the deliberate avoidance advice set out by governments.
Study leader Gideon Lack, head of department of paediatric allergy, King's College London, said: "This is an important clinical development and contravenes previous guidelines. Whilst these were withdrawn in 2008 in the UK and US, our study suggests that new guidelines may be needed to reduce the rate of peanut allergy in our children.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. Parents of infants and young children with eczema and/or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, paediatrician, or their general practitioner prior to feeding them peanut products."
Anthony S Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: "Food allergies are a growing concern, not just in the United States but around the world. For a study to show a benefit of this magnitude in the prevention of peanut allergy is without precedent. The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention."