Fight Peanuts With Peanuts: Stemming the Nut Allergy Epidemic
Here’s some encouraging news for stemming what was beginning to look like a peanut allergy epidemic in children across the world.
Well, there is mounting evidence which goes to show that exposing children early, very early to peanuts might avoid food allergies later in life. In fact, there is almost an 80% reduction in peanut allergy in children who are introduced to these legumes in the first three to 11 months of life.
The finding is revolutionary and completely contradicts the World Health Organisation recommendation that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. It also turns decades of conventional wisdom on its head which propagated completely avoiding peanuts till the age of three.
Fight Peanuts With Peanuts
As scientists continue to piece together the mystery of how allergies develop, we’re seeing a major shift in prevention methods, from avoidance to early exposure.
For the study, scientists split more than 1,300 three-month-old infants in two groups and followed them for more than three years.
In the first group, mums breastfed their babies exclusively and infants in the second group were offered six types of common allergenic foods - eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts, fish and sesame, from three months onwards.
At the end of the three-year study period, scientists found that mothers who introduced allergy-inducing foods early on reduced the food allergy risk of their kids by a whopping 67% than exclusively breastfed children.
That’s not all, the prevalence of egg allergies was far lower - only 1% developed an egg allergy compared with 6% of the other group.
The result also falls in line with other studies among which the general trend was – if you expose your baby to something as a child, they’re much more likely to develop a tolerance towards it.
The study has been published in the reputed medical journal New England Journal of Medicine.
So how should new parents proceed? Can babies be safely exposed to peanuts, and what’s the best way to introduce them into their diet?
So What Should New Parents Do?
Even though the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has proposed new guidelines for children in the US to be fed peanuts from four months itself, no paediatrician The Quint spoke to recommends the same.
However, if you have a high-risk infant, that’s a kid with severe eczema dermatitis in the first few months of life, or has an egg allergy in the first several months of life - they should be evaluated with skin-prick tests between four and eight months of age to confirm whether or not they are already sensitized to peanuts.
If they are not, you can start regular peanut consumption under a physician’s supervision - begin by maybe putting a teaspoon of peanut butter in the rice cereal or formula. The study recommends two grams of peanut protein three times a week for at least three years.