You may have read about the recent peanut allergy study suggesting that early exposure to peanuts is beneficial for reducing the incidence of an allergy. I saw the same headlines and shared the links on social media. This is exciting stuff and the more people that have access to this information, the better. At least you’d think so. More on that below.
So the study. The idea of feeding your children peanuts earlier in life rather than purposely delaying exposure to prevent a peanut allergy is not so much ‘groundbreaking’ as it is a direct counter to the years of advice parents were given. As my mother will tell you, the old approach was to delay introducing major allergens to kids who might be predisposed to food allergies due family history. Maybe the body would be better able to digest the proteins or maybe any ‘allergy’ would simply be outgrown by the time first exposure came. So was the thinking.
Well, it turns out that was wrong. That said, there should be two major take-aways from the study. (A) not every baby should be fed peanuts and (B) there is not a direct link between my daughter’s peanut allergy and her lack of exposure. At least not one that this study found.
Let’s start with the study. “Investigators tested the hypothesis that regularly eating foods containing peanut – if started during within the first year of life – could elicit a protective immune response rather than an allergic reaction.” The infants were chosen for the study because they were considered high risk for developing a peanut allergy because they had severe eczema* and/or an egg allergy. Participants were excluded if they showed a significant sensitization to peanut as measured by skin prick test (SPT). So Bubba would have been excluded. She showed signs of a severe peanut allergy upon her very first SPT at six months old. These researchers didn’t study early peanut exposure to kids with an allergy, aka don’t tell me my kid wouldn’t have a peanut allergy if I had just fed her peanuts.
But here is what they did find: “Early (peanut) consumption is effective not only in high-risk infants who show no sensitivity to peanuts early on, but it is also effective in infants who already demonstrate peanut sensitivity.” That is AWESOME. Anything that reduces the number of kids with a food allergy is just plain rad.
So what’s the harm in mainstream media carrying this story? People like this guy. Too many people who know nothing about allergies now feel like they know what has caused the outbreak in peanut allergies – overprotective parents. And that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Not every baby should be fed peanuts. If you have a family history of food allergies, a baby with eczema, or a child who has had an allergic reaction to any food, please discuss the best course of action with your pediatrician and/or an allergist.
So, parent to parent…what would I say if you told me you’re scared to feed your kid peanuts for the first time because of kids like Bubba? I would tell you I understand the fear. I would tell you there is no harm in talking to your doctor. I would ask about eczema and family history. If it all sounds clear? I would tell you that current research says you should feed your baby peanuts sooner rather than later.
Want to read the study for yourself? You can read more here and the trial details are available on TrialShare. I also recommend reading both Robyn O’Brien’s piece about the limitations of the study and FARE’s response.
*Note – please consider taking your infant to an allergist if they have eczema that is not resolving. 37% of infants with moderate to severe eczema have food allergies. Here is another article discussing the link between eczema and allergies. Bubba had moderate to severe eczema and we took it seriously. The rest is history.