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Should We Be Giving Infants Peanuts to Reduce Allergy Risk?

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In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested keeping children under three away from products and snack foods containing peanuts was the best way to avoid a severe allergic reaction. Thanks to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, these recommendations changed in the beginning of the year. Now, we have even more research that backs the new guidelines.

According to the Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP) study conducted by the Immune Tolerance Network (ITN), exposing infants who are at high-risk for developing a peanut allergy to a peanut-containing snack could prevent the allergy from developing further. The LEAP study, which was led by Professor Gideon Lack at Kings College London, is the first of its kind, using a randomized trial to prevent a food allergy in a large group of high-risk infants.

The LEAP Study

More than 600 children between the ages of four and 11 months who were at high risk for peanut allergy were randomized to either consume or avoid peanuts until they were five years old. Children in the peanut consumption group were asked to eat a peanut-containing snack-food at least three times each week, whereas the other children in the peanut avoidance group were asked to avoid ingesting peanut-containing foods.

Results of the LEAP Study

Of the children who avoided peanuts completely, 17 percent developed a peanut allergy by the time they were five. Astonishingly, only three percent of the children who ate peanut snacks a few times a week developed an allergy by age five. Meaning, high-risk infants who sustained consumption of peanuts beginning in the first 11 months of their life were less likely to develop a peanut allergy.

“One group was exposed to peanuts, starting at a very early age, between four and 11 months, and continued up to age five,” said Dr. Gerald Volcheck, MD, a Mayo Clinic allergist. “And then the other group completely avoided the peanut until age five. And they found the likelihood of peanut allergy was much, much lower in the group that ate peanut from infancy to age 5 on a regular basis.”

When can you give peanuts to kids?

In January, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released new guidelines that suggested children who were six months old or younger should be exposed to peanut-containing foods, including pureed food and finger foods containing peanut powder or extract.

According to Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, chairman of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s food allergy committee, 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.”

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