The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued new guidelines that recommend parents now introduce peanuts into their child’s diet as early as possible in order to prevent allergies. This is the opposite of previous advice that was once given, where parents were told to hold off on peanuts. The new NIH guidelines are part of a body of evidence that continues to grow, which seems to suggest that frequent and early exposure to peanuts may stave off future allergies, according to Science Alert.
The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) began recommending in 2015 that it was fine for infants four months of age and up to be given peanut-based products, whereas previously the AAP had recommended parents wait until three years of age before they first allowed their child to consume anything with peanuts. However, the NIH does recommend that if babies have mild to moderate eczema to hold off on introducing peanuts until after six months of age.
Anthony Fauci, a director who works in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases part of the NIH, spoke about the new peanut guidelines for children.
“Living with peanut allergy requires constant vigilance. Preventing the development of peanut allergy will improve and save lives and lower healthcare costs. We expect that widespread implementation of these guidelines by healthcare providers will prevent the development of peanut allergy in many susceptible children and ultimately reduce the prevalence of peanut allergy in the United States.”
There were different studies that the NIH looked at before they made their decision to recommend peanuts at the age of four months and up, and one specific study they paid attention to focused on babies who weren’t found to react to a peanut allergy test at the age of eight months.
Of those same children in the study, almost 14 percent of them went on to have a peanut allergy by the time they had reached age 5, yet only 2 percent of those children who received a very small amount of peanut paste each week ended up becoming allergic.
The research for this study was conducted at Kings College London in the United Kingdom, and the results have been published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved 600 babies who had been identified and chosen for being at high risk of peanut allergies, which means that these babies were showing signs of allergies to eggs and the development of eczema.
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Statistically, peanut allergies have skyrocketed in the United States and have actually tripled since 1997. While scientists are not completely sure what the reason is behind this massive rise in peanut allergies, some are suspecting that it may be caused by not eating peanuts at a young age. This is because if you are exposed to peanut proteins through the air you can develop allergies, whereas if you consume the peanuts it can actually help to prevent peanut allergies.
This explains to scientists why peanut allergies might be so much higher in the United Kingdom and the United States as children haven’t been consuming peanuts at young ages in these countries. It is quite different when looked at in other countries where peanuts are more of a staple food and there are far fewer cases of peanut allergies.
Scientists call this idea the “dual-allergen exposure hypothesis,” and this hypothesis is the idea that if an allergen is introduced to an individual through their skin, it may trigger an allergy. However, if people consume this allergen through their diet, they are more likely to develop a tolerance to the allergen, which is thought to be the case with peanuts and peanut allergies.
The NIH now suggest to parents that infants that have no known food allergies or eczema can be given foods that contain peanuts in an “age-appropriate manner.” They do recommend consulting with your doctor first if you feel that your child may have allergies or be at risk and to ask your doctor how peanuts can safely and carefully be added to your child’s diet. It is very important to get professional advice first before you make any changes to your child’s diet.
What do you think about the new NIH guidelines that call for introducing peanuts into diets of children at younger ages to reduce the risk of future peanut allergies?
[Featured Image by Scott Roth/AP Images]