Go Nuts: There’s New Research Supporting Peanut Exposure During Infancy

posted: 03/07/16
by: Briana Finelli
cute latina girl with long hair smiles as bread smeared with peanut butter
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cute latina girl with long hair smiles as bread smeared with peanut butter

Gone are the days of PBJs in lunch boxes and salted peanuts as an in-flight snack. Due to the prevalence of peanut allergies -- the number has quadrupled in the U.S. in the past 13 years! -- what was once a common snack is now on the list of most feared foods.

Starting in 2000, pediatricians recommended waiting until a child was three before exposing them to peanuts. However, after peanut allergies have continued to rise, a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine questions if this is the best advice.

Just last year, the journal published a landmark study that followed children from infancy until they turned five in an effort to research peanut allergies and the effects of early exposure to the common allergen.

Approximately 640 high-risk infants were assigned to separate groups based on their sensitivity to peanut extract, which was determined by a skin prick test. About 530 had negative results on the skin-prick test, and 98 had a positive results. The researchers divided those children with negative results into two groups: one group was fed "peanut butter mush"--a soupy peanut butter mixture--between 4- and 11-months-old, and the other avoided peanuts until turning five. Both groups were given allergy tests after those five years, and the results were stunning. Only 1.9% of the children in the early exposure group developed a peanut allergy compared to a whopping 13.7% in the control group.

This research promoted early exposure to peanuts as a potential preventive measure of peanut allergies, and now there's follow-up evidence to further support the infancy introduction measure.

Researchers followed the high-risk children who were exposed to peanuts in infancy for one additional year. Most parents were worried that children would need to consume peanuts on a weekly or fairly regular basis in order to maintain tolerance, so the children avoided peanuts for the additional 12-month period.

The results? Avoidance of peanuts had no effect on tolerance. The children's potential to develop a peanut allergy did not decrease even after one full year of avoiding the nut.

So what does this mean for parents?

Introducing peanuts during infancy could do more than just prevent peanut allergies from developing--it may strengthen high-risk children's ability to fight off the allergy even after avoidance. Although children with eczema or egg allergies are still considered high-risk, and parents should still check with a physician before introducing peanuts early on, this research makes a strong case for early introduction.

Are you a parent who was on the fence about introducing peanuts during infancy? When your child is between 4 and 8 months old, check with a physician to assess your child's risk of allergies. If he or she is at risk, try a skin-prick test for peanuts. If the test results are negative, you can try to expose your child to peanuts (about 2 grams, roughly half a teaspoon, three times a week) for the next few years, and, hopefully, they'll be able to enjoy PBJs by the time they reach elementary school.