seem unorthodox, but feeding peanuts to infants at risk of an
allergic reaction could actually safeguard them.
evidence suggests that gradually introducing bits of peanut
protein, such as peanut butter diluted with hot water, to
high-risk babies as young as 4 months old might help them
develop immunity. (Whole peanuts, however, are a choking
hazard and should not be fed to babies and toddlers.)
latest research, published this month in the New England
Journal of Medicine, found most children who consume peanuts
at an early age will remain allergy-free, even if they stop
eating peanuts by age 6.
National Institutes of Health is proposing new guidelines
recommending some children be fed peanut-containing foods ó
about 6 to 7 grams over three or more feedings ó as early as
age 4 to 6 months. The recommendation applies to children who
are at high-risk because they already have severe eczema, egg
allergy or both.
my gut itís counterintuitive," said Louise Larsen, of
strained to ensure her daughter, now 19, never ate or touched
the legumes again after a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
sent her into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic
reaction, at 15 months old.
Larsen added, "I do believe in science."
allergies appear to be increasingly common ó they now affect
about 1.4 percent of U.S. children, according to a 2010 study
by food allergists with Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New
York. That figure is up from less than 0.5 percent in 1999.
are a handful of theories for the rise ó such as the one
that says children are not being exposed to as many germs so
their immune systems have changed ó but no definitive
some, eating cross-contaminated food or even consuming traces
of peanuts, which can lurk undetected on countertops and on
peopleís hands, can be life threatening. The consequences
arenít always so severe ó sometimes exposure results in
hives or a tingling sensation.
were once advised to delay introduction of peanuts into their
childrenís diets to avoid a dangerous reaction. But, for
some, that thinking has shifted.
you delay too long, you have a higher risk of developing a
peanut allergy," said Dr. David Fleischer, an allergy
specialist at Childrenís Hospital Colorado who helped write
the NIH guidelines.
the recommendations, which arenít yet final, say those at
highest risk should first get a skin prick test exposing them
to a small amount of the allergen. Depending on how allergic
the child is, the feeding might be best supervised or avoided.
proposed guidelines draw upon the results of a clinical trial
in the U.K., published last spring in the New England Journal
of Medicine. Known as the LEAP trial, it involved 640 infants
with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both. They were divided
into two groups, one with families avoiding peanuts and
another with children fed peanut butter weekly for five years.
Nearly 14 percent of those who avoided peanuts became
allergic, compared to 2 percent of those who didnít.
published in the journal this month built upon the LEAP study.
This time, every participant avoided eating peanuts for one
year. After that 12-month hiatus, 4.8 percent of participants
who had been exposed to peanuts as infants developed allergies
compared to 18.6 percent from the original avoidance group of
infants, researchers said.
who specialize in allergies say the findings are promising.
study is something weíve been waiting a long time for,"
said Dr. Wan-Yin Chan of CHOC Childrenís Hospital.
evidence validates how Chan approached peanuts with her own
two girls, now ages 3 and 6, who had mild to moderate eczema
them peanut butter before they each turned 1. It was
controversial at the time, Chan said, so she never recommended
it to her patients. But she will soon, now that increasing
evidence and new guidelines suggest itís not only safe but
beneficial, she said.
have had a threefold increase in prevalence of peanut
allergies in (20) years. I think people will be happy to have
a solution," she said.
solution that many parents are reacting to with trepidation,
said Larsen. In 2008, she formed an online community for
parents of children with food allergies. Through Facebook, the
group, Parents of Kids With a Severe Peanut Allergy, has
majority of people feel that this sounds good in theory, and
we know that for some people this has worked," Larsen
said. "But for many of us, our children would never have
survived being introduced to peanuts, because their first
introduction to peanuts was severe anaphylaxis.
hope that these new guidelines heavily stress the importance
of early testing to weed out babies that might have an
anaphylactic reaction," she added.
said heís also hearing concerns from parents. Itís up to
him and other doctors to balance those worries with the
science in drafting the final NIH guidelines.
priority is to try to implement things in a safe way to reduce
the rapid rise in peanut allergies," he said.