Infants should be given small doses of foods containing peanuts beginning at about four to six months in order to prevent peanut allergies further down the road, according to new recommendations released this week by the National Institutes of Health.
As Ars Technica reports, the new guidelines seem to confirm something that pediatricians, food scientists, and parents have suspected for some time: that early exposure to peanuts in infancy may be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak, to help prevent peanut allergies.
Speaking to the New York Times, food allergy expert Matthew Greenhawt said that there’s a very brief period of time during infancy when a baby can safely handle certain foods.
“[There is a] window of time in which the body is more likely to tolerate a food than react to it, and if you can educate the body during that window, you’re at much lower likelihood of developing an allergy to that food.”
That window is when the child is between four and six months of age.
For the study, published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers looked at kids in three risk groups, and created recommendations for each group.
For high-risk kids, such as those who have severe eczema or who may have already been diagnosed with an egg allergy, experts recommend parents start introducing peanut-containing foods at around four to six months of age. If your child is in the high-risk group, his or her pediatrician may want to try a skin-prick or other allergy test first, in order to rule out an existing peanut allergy.
For moderate-risk kids — that is, those with mild to moderate eczema — peanut-containing foods should be introduced at six months.
If your child is low risk, with no diagnosed allergies and no known signs of eczema, you can go ahead and introduce peanuts whenever you think is best based on your dietary customs.
The NIH’s recommendations come with several caveats. Don’t try to introduce peanuts to an infant who isn’t yet started on solid foods. Don’t try to give them peanuts without consulting with your pediatrician first. Whatever you do, don’t give them raw peanuts or straight peanut butter (they’re both choking hazards). Instead, mix up a small amount of peanut paste in applesauce or yogurt, or sprinkle nut powder on other easy-to-swallow foods (you can find recipes here).
The appropriate starting dose is about six to seven grams of peanuts spread out over three feedings within a week.
Over the past few decades, peanut allergies have been dramatically increasing. In 1999, just 0.4 percent of kids were known to have peanut allergies. By 2010, that figure was 2.0 percent. This has led to some rather drastic responses, including causing some schools to completely ban peanuts and peanut butter from school grounds.
As to why peanut allergies are on the increase, no one is 100 percent sure why. Several theories have been put forth, according to Allergy UK, including better hygiene (thus decreasing the number of allergens that children and pregnant moms are exposed to, developing the body’s natural immunity); the consumption of more processed and mass-produced foods instead of fresh foods; and environmental factors.
“An intriguing possibility is that many… dietary and environmental factors may increase allergy risk by regulating genes which promote an allergic-type immune system. Hopefully, our understanding of epigenetics will increase over the coming years, offering new potential strategies by which we might be able to prevent allergy.”
Please do not try to introduce peanuts to your infant without first consulting with your pediatrician.
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