Since 1997, the number of kids with peanut allergies has quadrupled. To combat this growing problem, a new study is taking an alternative approach. Prior to this study, doctors routinely told the parents of kids at risk for a peanut allergy to avoid peanuts for the first two years of life. But new research shows that at-risk infants should be introduced to peanuts early to stave off the allergy later.
In all, 2 percent of kids are allergic to peanuts and it’s the leading cause of death from an allergic reaction. It causes a potentially fatal reaction called anaphylaxis as well as itching, swelling of the tongue and throat, constriction of the airway, fainting, and nausea. It’s not a fun allergy to have.
But a new study shows a highly significant difference in those who developed a peanut allergy and those who did not. The study targeted kids who were predisposed because either they had other food allergies or it ran in their families. The study, which was published in the journal The Lancet, found that after 6 months of exposure, up to 91 percent of kids 7-16 could safety ingest five peanuts a day and only 1 in 99 had a serious reaction. The goal of the study was to figure out how to prevent the food allergy in the first place.
The idea for the study came from Israel where because of diet, kids are exposed to peanuts at a much younger age. Incidence of allergy was dramatically lower than in the United Kingdom, so researchers decided to conduct the study.
In another study, the children of non-allergic moms who ate the highest amounts of peanuts during pregnancy had kids with the lowest rates of peanut allergy. According to an accompanying editorial, reported in The New York Times, by Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, “some studies actually showed that avoiding peanuts during pregnancy increased the risk of a child developing peanut sensitization.”
Dr. Gupta went on to say, “pregnant women should not eliminate nuts from their diet, as peanuts are a good source of protein and also provide folic acid,” which can help prevent neural tube defects.
The National Institutes of Health is meeting to look at the study and come up with guidelines. But they advise that there is still no cure for a peanut allergy once you have one. This is to prevent people from getting them in the first place. It’s also asking parents to wait for the release of its guidelines before changing their practice in order to avoid any serious reaction in kids that may be susceptible. But this does mark a huge change in thinking about the way we view food allergies for parents and doctors alike and a hope that this will help reverse the course of treatment.
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Image of kid eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Shuttershock