Do NOT give peanuts to children to cure their allergy, study warns

Do NOT give peanuts to children to cure their allergy, researchers warn as study reveals it may make them MORE sensitive

  • Recent studies have found oral immunotherapy (giving kids peanuts) can be effective 
  • But a new study by McMaster University in Canada found the opposite
  • They found that attempts to desensitize children in the ‘real world’ promoted allergic reactions more than avoiding peanuts

Treating childhood peanut allergy by gradually increasing tolerance may make the condition worse instead of better, a new study suggests.

‘Food challenge’ studies have indicated that oral immunotherapy, which involves gradually raising doses of an allergen over time, can be effective.

However, new research by McMaster University raises doubts about this approach. 

It shows that compared with avoiding peanuts, attempts to desensitize children in the ‘real world’ promote allergic reactions, including the serious and potentially fatal condition anaphylaxis.

Scientists pooled the results of 12 trials involving more than 1,000 young patients with an average age of nine whose progress was followed for a year.

Recent studies have found oral immunotherapy (giving kids peanuts) can be effective. But a new study by McMaster University in Canada found the opposite

The studies compared the effectiveness of oral immunotherapy and avoidance using different peanut products and doses.

Researchers found that peanut oral immunotherapy tripled rates of anaphylaxis, from around 7.1 percent to 22.2 percent.

Allergic reactions leading to vomiting, abdominal pain, mouth itching, hives, wheezing and asthma all increased.

The findings favor avoidance over current forms of oral immunotherapy, said the study authors writing in The Lancet medical journal.

Lead researcher Dr Derek Chu, from McMaster University in Canada, said: ‘Numerous studies of varying quality have been published on oral immunotherapy, but its effectiveness and reliability remains unclear.


Under clinical guidelines in the US, parents are advised to introduce peanuts into a baby’s diet ‘as early as four to six months’.

In the UK, parents are advised to give children crushed up peanuts from around six months, if there is no history of allergies in the family.

Peanut allergies among children have tripled since 1997, according to a study by the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital found last year. Around one in 100 people in the UK and US has a peanut allergy.

The allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly treats three types of peanut protein (Ara h1, Ara h2 and Ara h3) as a threat, when it comes into contact with them.

Their body then releases chemicals to destroy what it perceives as a dangerous invader. This rush of chemicals triggers symptoms of an allergic reaction, often within seconds.

These range from an itchy mouth to anaphylactic shock, where the airways narrow, blood pressure plummets and organs start to shut down.

Sufferers who have had severe reactions usually carry an EpiPen device to give themselves a shot of adrenaline if another reaction occurs.

This opens up the airways and dilates blood vessels to force blood pressure back up. 

‘Our study synthesises all randomized clinical trials comparing peanut oral immunotherapy to no immunotherapy in order to generate the highest quality evidence to inform decision-making.

‘It shows that current peanut oral immunotherapy regimens can achieve the immunological goal of desensitization, but that this outcome does not translate into achieving the clinical and patient-desired aim of less allergic reactions and anaphylaxis over time.

‘Instead, the opposite outcome occurs, with more allergic and adverse reactions with oral immunotherapy compared with avoidance or placebo.’

He added: ‘Our results do not denounce current research in oral immunotherapy, but the method needs to be more carefully considered, improvements in safety made and measures of success need to be aligned with patients’ wishes.’

More than six million people are affected by food allergies in Europe and North America, including 8 percent of children and 2-3 percent of adults, said the scientists.

While common allergies to milk and egg are often out-grown by the age of five to 10, peanut allergy can be a lifelong problem.

Studies of oral immunotherapy measure treatment success by whether a patient can pass a supervised food challenge.

However, this cannot predict a patient’s future risk in the real world, the researcher pointed out.

Commenting in the journal, Dr Graham Roberts, from the University of Southampton, said it would be useful to compare oral (by mouth) and epicutaneous (skin exposure) immunotherapy.

He added: ‘Although epicutaneous immunotherapy is less effective, it has a better safety profile than oral immunotherapy, which some patients might find more acceptable.

‘Finally, we should not forget that we now know that the early introduction of peanut products into the infant diet can prevent most cases of peanut allergy. Moving forward we need to develop implementation strategies to reduce number of patients with peanut allergy.’