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Feeding Babies Peanuts Could Halt Food Allergy Development

Feb 23, 2015 11:57 PM EST

(Photo : Pixabay)

Concerned parents might shy away from this at first, but researchers are now saying that if parents want to ensure that their child does not develop a peanut allergy, they should be feeding him or her products containing the infamous nuts from a very young age.

Food allergies are certainly not uncommon. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, with one in every 13 children boasting some kind of allergic reaction to a food, according to the allergy awareness non-profit FARE.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunity (ACAAI) has even shown via recent data that the rate of peanut allergy development in children - one of the most sensitive and intense allergic reactions - had more than tripled between 1997 and 2008.

Thankfully, new research from the National Institutes of Health shows that about 20 percent of children with a peanut allergy eventually outgrow it - but before that, it can be at least an utter nuisance, and at worst, a deadly problem.

As things stand, peanut allergies are often too sensitive for common immunotherapy (allergy shots) and far too powerful for over-the-counter pills. That leaves sufferers with few options to help them avoid a dangerous reaction if they come into contact with peanuts or peanut oil.

That's why researchers have been looking into a way to prevent development of the allergy altogether, and they think they've found their answer.

According to a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, babies at high risk for becoming allergic to peanuts are much less likely to develop the allergy if they are regularly fed foods containing the legumes starting in their first year of life.

Researcher Gideon Lack of King's College London first decided to investigate the matter after noticing that statistically, Israeli kids are much less likely to have peanut allergies than children in Britain and the United States. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : pixabay)

"My Israeli colleagues and friends and young parents were telling me, 'Look, we give peanuts to these children very early. Not whole peanuts, but peanut snacks,'" Lack told NPR in a recent interview.

He explained that in Israel, peanut snacks called Bamba - made with peanut butter and corn - are sometimes given to babies to suck on. Meanwhile, in the US and UK, many parents avoid giving their young children peanut products for fear that they have an allergy. However, it's important to note that few children are ever born with allergies, as it often takes external cues for an allergy to develop.

For the study, Lack and his colleagues identified 640 newborns who had already developed eczema, an egg allergy, or both. Past studies have linked these characteristics with a heightened risk of developing a peanut allergy.

Half these children were then fed some form of peanuts (with a low choking risk, of course), while the other half was raised without exposure to the food. The experiment lasted only a year, but the children were then followed for five more, with annual allergy tests and check-ups.

What they found was stunning. About 17 percent of the children who avoided the product developed a peanut allergy while only 3.2 percent of the peanut eaters did the same.

Scott Sicherer, an advisor to the American Academy of Pediatrics on allergies, and who was not involved in the study, is reportedly one of many experts who's hailing this study as a "landmark" revelation, according to NPR.

He added, however, that a great deal of focus should be on the fact that these children were exposed to peanuts before their first birthday. He worries that if parents who have missed that window of time hear about this, and think to still break out the peanut butter, they might wind up with a bad situation on their hands.

That's why it's important for parents to test their children. If they get the all clear, however, Lack and his colleagues would argue to - by all means - bring on the nutty stuff!

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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