It is not surprising that, after years and years of doctors advising against feeding peanuts to children as a preventive treatment for allergies, a new study comes and shows us that we couldn’t have been more wrong. For the first time, a team of researchers was able to demonstrate that feeding your child small amounts of peanuts regularly might just mean a lower risk of developing peanut allergies in the years to come.
Scientists encourage parents to start feeding them from their infancy; children who got their peanut intake regularly were less prone to develop peanut allergies than those who did not eat any.
The study was published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, reporting that giving peanuts to your baby regularly for at least four years reduces their risk of peanut allergy by a staggering average of 81 percent. However, the authors of the study recommended this regimen under the strict supervision of a doctor, because triggering an allergic reaction to peanuts can be life-threatening.
Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose funding made the study of 640 children possible, stated that the conclusions might dramatically change the way doctors and allergy experts approach preventive treatments for food allergies.
The frequency of peanut allergies cases in children living in developed countries has doubled in the past decade, reaching 3 percent. That might not sound like much, but peanut allergies affect schools and day care centers, where nuts of all sorts have mostly been banned from cafeterias and classrooms, in fear of potentially deadly reactions.
In 2000, in a failed attempt to decrease the number of peanut allergy cases, the American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended that children should be kept away from peanuts until the age of 3. When the allergy frequency did not lower, but even increased instead, the association withdrew their suggestion in 2008.
After that, British researchers decided that new recommendations should be based on the results of a study. They tested babies first at the ages of 4-11 months, and then retested them at the age of 5. Babies who presented strong reactions to the standard skin-prick tests for peanuts were left out of the study, for their own safety.
In between the two tests, researchers assigned some babies to eat three meals equaling 24 peanuts a week, and the others were instructed to avoid them completely. The peanuts were consumed in the form of peanut butter in three of their meals.
The results showed that eating peanuts early on in their life helped all children, including those babies who firstly tested as mildly allergic to peanuts. In this group, 35 percent of children who did not ingest any peanuts developed serious allergies, compared with 11 percent of those who did eat – showing a 70 percent reduction in risk.
In the other group of babies who first tested as insensitive to peanuts, 14 percent of them became allergic after avoiding them, compared to 2 percent of those who were given three meals of peanuts a week – showing a remarkable 86 percent reduction in risk.
Rebecca Gruchall, head of allergy and immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, strongly recommends parents to check in with their doctors before using the peanut regimen used in the study. They can perform proper testing which show if it’s safe for their child to do it.
Doctors and experts can’t really put their finger on the reason why peanut allergies have become more common in recent years, although this study might suggest that the recommendations given in 2000 could have made the problem worse. On the other hand, it’s not just peanut allergies that have increased their prevalence; there are many other allergic conditions increasing in frequency.
One viable explanation for the rise in peanut allergies might be connected to the expansion of eczema. The skin of children who suffer from eczema is really irritated, cracking and bleeding, allowing them to be exposed to peanut dust. Peanut protein is a common element found in the dust rising in the household.
Children’s reaction to being exposed to peanuts through the skin is very different than the reaction of those who first get a taste of it through the mouth. This possible link explains how the body’s immune system is wired to attack anything that pierces the skin, whether it is peanut protein or germs and parasites.
What happens next is that the immune system keeps on overreacting each time it encounters peanut protein, whether it is through the mouth or through the skin. This overreaction seems to be lacking if the first experience with peanuts is through the mouth, because the body recognizes the different kinds of proteins that way.
Image Source: Huffington Post
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