A common question among new parents is “How can I protect my baby from getting food allergies.” This is a well-founded question considering that the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) association (www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats) reports approximately 15 million people in the United States have food allergies. Close to 6 million of these individuals are children.
As such, food allergies have become a major public health issue in the past decade with a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis, a severe reaction to an allergen such as eggs or peanuts. More specifically childhood hospitalizations for serious reactions to food allergies have tripled.
Allergic reactions, including life-threatening anaphylactic shock occur because the body’s immune system reacts inappropriately to an allergen that the body incorrectly perceives as a threat. The most common food allergies are peanut, soy, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, seafood, fish and tree nuts. Among these, peanut and egg allergies are the most common in infants and toddlers. While some children will outgrow some food allergies, peanut allergies are unfortunately often lifelong.
THE STUDY: The good news is parents finally have an answer to their question about how to best prevent peanut allergies in the
LEAP study (Learning Early About Peanut allergy www.leapstudy.com). This was a clinical trial that looked at children who were considered to be at high risk of developing a peanut allergy. Half of the children were introduced to peanut proteins early (4-11 months of age) and frequently (3x/week). The other half completely avoided peanut products.
THE RESULTS: Children who avoided peanut containing foods had a much higher incidence of having a peanut allergy compared to children who had consistently and frequently consumed peanut products from a young age. Put simply, the LEAP study demonstrated that even in high risk infants, frequent consumption of peanut protein starting at 4-11 months of age is extremely effective in preventing the development of a peanut allergy.
THE NEW GUIDELINES: The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has published new guidelines to help pediatricians and parents know how and when to safely introduce infants to peanuts.
Group 1: Infants with severe eczema, egg allergy or both. These infants have the highest risk of developing a peanut allergy and should be evaluated by a physician prior to peanut introduction. If deemed safe peanut introduction is then recommended at 4-6 months of age.
Group 2: Infants with mild to moderate eczema. It is not required that these infants be evaluated by a physician prior to peanut introduction. They should be introduced to age appropriate peanut containing foods around 6 months of age. Some parents and or medical providers of infants in this group may request an in office visit to supervise peanut introduction.
Group 3: Infants with no signs of eczema or any food allergy. These infants should be introduced to age appropriate peanut containing foods and in accordance with family preferences and cultural practices.
Two points of attention: One, if your infant develops concerning symptoms after introducing peanut containing foods, parents need to contact their health care provider for evaluation of a possible peanut allergy. Secondly, the NIAID guidelines address prevention of peanut allergy and are not to be applied by anyone with a known peanut allergy. The guidelines are not a treatment recommendation.
The key takeaway for parents from the LEAP study and the new NIAID guidelines is early introduction and frequent administration of peanuts to infants, and not the traditionally recommended avoidance.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO? So how do you safely introduce peanuts to a baby at 4 to 6 months of age? Whole peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut snacks are all choking hazards. Additionally, peanut butter is often packed with salt, sugar, and cornstarch. An option available is a product called Simply Peanut.™ Learn more at www.simply-peanut.com