New Study Finds Babies Should Consume Peanut Products

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The incidence of peanut allergy has been on the rise in the United States for many years. For those with the allergy, there is no cure or treatment – and these people have to be vigilant about the foods they eat and the environments they are in to avoid a potentially life-threatening reaction.

In a recent ruling from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, researchers found that early introduction of peanut-containing foods to infants can prevent the development of a peanut allergy.

Christian Nageotte, M.D., an allergy and immunology specialist at Henry Ford Health System, explains what this ruling entails and how it will affect the future of allergy diagnosis.

Q: Can you further explain this study and its implications?

Dr. Nageotte: A few years ago, it was discovered that there is a large difference between Jewish children born in the United Kingdom and those born in Israel and the rate of peanut allergy. It was later learned there is a difference in how soon peanut products are introduced into the diet. In the UK, as well as the United States, the recommendation has been to delay peanut introduction until after age 3, or even age 5 in some cases. In Israel, peanut protein is given to infants much sooner, at around 7 months, and the rate of peanut allergy is much lower.

In the U.S., researchers began conducting Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) studies, where infants 4 to 11 months old with severe eczema, egg allergy or both were divided into two groups on the basis of pre-existing sensitization to peanut.

In 530 participants with negative baseline skin tests to peanut, prevalence of peanut allergy at age 5 was 13.7 percent in the peanut avoidance group versus 1.9 percent in the peanut consumption group (an 86 percent relative reduction). In the 98 children with a positive baseline skin test to peanut, the prevalence of peanut allergy was 35.3 percent in the avoidance group and 10.6 percent in the exposed group (a 70 percent relative reduction).

Q: It seems exposing young children to foods they may be allergic to in small doses early on to help their bodies build up a tolerance would make sense. Why was this not recommended before?

Dr. Nageotte: From an outside perspective it makes sense – we give people measles vaccines that contain the measles virus so their bodies can build up a tolerance – but that wasn’t the thinking for allergies.

What we do know is that in families that tend to have allergies, in some cases, if the child is already sensitized and there is accidental exposure, a life threatening event can occur – and it can occur extremely quickly without enough time to get to a hospital. Our thinking was if something is potentially lethal, avoid it. With sicknesses like the flu that are prevented with a shot, if you get the flu, you notice symptoms over a period of days – not seconds.

Q: The new recommendations talk about a child’s risk level of developing a peanut allergy. How does this affect when children should be introduced to peanut-products?

Dr. Nageotte: For those with low risk, it means there is no history of eczema or other food allergies. These children can start eating peanut protein at home in the form of a puffed Cheeto-like snack known as Bamba at an appropriate age that aligns with family preferences.

Those with moderate risk have mild eczema and should be introduced to peanut-containing foods at around 6 months.

Those with high risk have severe eczema, egg allergy or both should be introduced at around 4 to 6 months.

Parents of children with moderate or high risk should consult a pediatrician first, and it may be recommended that the introduction be done in a physician office in case of a severe allergic reaction.

Q: What is the best way to introduce peanut products to young children?

Dr. Nageotte: One of the best ways is by giving Bamba as a snack – it is offered at various health food stores.

Parents should never just give a child a whole peanut or even peanut butter because they can pose health hazards outside of just an allergic reaction, like choking.

HF: Could this new method of peanut introduction help desensitize children who already have a peanut allergy?

Dr. Nageotte: Short answer: No.

Parents should not take this study as an OK to feed their infants products containing peanuts right away. This study shows that it is possible to prevent peanut allergy, but if a child is already sensitized, this method will not work to desensitize them.

Q: What impact will this ruling have in the future?

Dr. Nageotte: The ultimate hope is that these changes will reduce peanut allergy in the future.

In addition, there are already studies with other foods, such as milk and eggs, which are the two foods children are most allergic to, to see if this early introduction process works as well.


Do you or a loved one have allergies, or do you have questions about how this affects your child? Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider or find an allergy and immunology specialist at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Christian Nageotte is an allergy and immunology specialist who sees patients at the Henry Ford Medical Centers in Novi, Dearborn and Sterling Heights.

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