The aim of the present systematic review was to evaluate the influence of early life exposure (maternal and childhood) to peanuts and the subsequent development of sensitisation or allergy to peanuts during childhood. Studies were identified using electronic databases and bibliography searches. Studies that assessed the impact of non-avoidance compared with avoidance or reduced quantities of peanuts or peanut products on either sensitisation or allergy to peanuts, or both outcomes, were eligible. Six human studies were identified: two randomised controlled trials, two case–control studies and two cross-sectional studies. In addition, published animal and mechanistic studies, relevant to the question of whether early life exposure to peanuts affects the subsequent development of peanut sensitisation, were reviewed narratively. Overall, the evidence reviewed was heterogeneous, and was limited in quality, for example, through lack of adjustment for potentially confounding factors. The nature of the evidence has therefore hindered the development of definitive conclusions. The systematic review of human studies and narrative expert-led reviews of animal studies do not provide clear evidence to suggest that either maternal exposure, or early or delayed introduction of peanuts in the diets of children, has an impact upon subsequent development of sensitisation or allergy to peanuts. Results from some animal studies (and limited evidence from human subjects) suggest that the dose of peanuts is an important mediator of peanut sensitisation and tolerance; low doses tend to lead to sensitisation and higher doses tend to lead to tolerance.
(Received February 02 2009)
(Revised July 15 2009)
(Accepted September 28 2009)
(Online publication January 26 2010)
Abbreviations: COT, Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment; RCT, randomised controlled trial