Peanuts for Your ‘Peanut’ May Prevent Allergies

Health Minute     Fall 2018
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Not too long ago, doctors told parents to hold off on giving their babies peanut butter and other peanut products. Their aim was to reduce the 1 to 2 percent of the population who develop frightening and even deadly peanut allergies.

That was before a large study conducted by the United Kingdom produced new evidence in 2015 that said giving peanut products to babies could actually reduce the number of children with peanut allergies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines that encourage early introduction of peanut products into babies’ diets.  

Pediatrician Paul Weber, MD, of The Pediatric Group in Piqua, Ohio, comments, “The recent studies on peanut allergies support the hypothesis that if you introduce antigens [something the body’s immune system reacts against] at an early age, the body is less likely to see them as a threat and react.”

He emphasizes that the new guidelines won’t totally eliminate peanut allergies in children, but they will reduce the numbers of children who develop the allergies.

The bottom line is that the new recommendations will ultimately give us fewer problems with peanut allergies.

What Do the New Guidelines Say?

The AAP endorses three guidelines for introducing peanut products to infants. Doctors note that peanuts and peanut butter are choking hazards, so parents and caregivers should blend smooth peanut butter with pureed fruits or vegetables.

  1. Babies at highest risk of developing peanut allergies should receive peanut products as early as 4 to 6 months of age, shortly after adding other solid foods to the diet. Those at highest risk are babies with severe eczema and/or egg allergy, and they should be tested for peanut allergies before eating peanut products. As a precaution, babies who show signs of being allergic should eat their first peanuts while in the doctor’s office.
  2. Infants with mild to moderate eczema should be given peanut products around 6 months of age. Doctor supervision is not necessary.
  3. Babies who don't have eczema or other food allergies can have peanut products at the same time other solid foods are introduced, based on their family's preferences and cultural practices. 

“Nothing in medicine is 100 percent, but these new recommendations have been rated by the medical community as having a high level of confidence and as unlikely to change,” Dr. Weber says.

Why the Guidelines Changed

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Researchers in the United Kingdom had observed that Jewish children living in the UK had 10 times the rate of peanut allergies than that of Jewish children living in Israel. With similar ancestry, why were the rates so much higher for the children in the UK?

Further investigation revealed that Israeli children typically ate a peanut butter snack beginning in the first year of life and UK children weren’t exposed to peanuts until much later. 

Researchers studied 600 children most prone to peanut allergies — those with severe eczema or egg allergy — and learned that those children exposed to peanut products early had an 80 percent reduced risk of developing a peanut allergy. 

Further studies have confirmed the findings, Dr. Weber says. He adds that previous ideas about avoiding peanuts at an early age were based on observation and conjecture more than science. 

For parents who are reluctant to let go of previous guidelines, Dr. Weber notes, “Recommendations change as we learn more things. The bottom line is that the new recommendations will ultimately give us fewer problems with peanut allergies. As of right now, this is the best practice we have.”

Of course, be sure to talk with your child’s doctor, who knows your child and family best, if you have questions or concerns about how and when to introduce peanuts in the diet.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.