Health

Peanuts for babies? – New Studies back allergy-preventing strategy

NEW YORK: Photo shows an arrangement of peanuts in New York. — AP
NEW YORK: Photo shows an arrangement of peanuts in New York. — AP

CHICAGO: Two new studies bolster evidence that feeding babies peanuts or other allergyinducing foods is more likely to protect them than to cause problems. One study, a follow-up to landmark research published last year, suggests that the early prevention strategy leads to persistent, long-lasting results in children at risk for food allergies. It found that allergy protection lasted at least through age 5 and didn’t wane even when kids stopped eating peanutcontaining foods for a year.

That means at-risk kids who don’t want to eat peanut butter on a weekly basis can safely take a break, at least for a year. The second new study suggests that the early strategy could also work with eggs, another food that can cause allergies in young children.

It found that allergies to peanuts and eggs were less common in young children who started eating those foods at 3 months of age than in kids who as infants received only breast milk. The New England Journal of Medicine published both new studies online Friday, coinciding with their presentation at a medical meeting in Los Angeles. Food allergies are common, potentially serious and sometimes deadly. They’re becoming more prevalent in children in many countries, affecting up to 8 percent of kids under age 3. About 2 percent of US kids have peanut allergies.

The results from last year’s study prompted a sea change in experts’ approach to preventing these allergies. It was the first “to show that early introduction of peanut can prevent the development of allergy to it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

It also led to new draft guidance issued Friday by a panel convened by Fauci’s agency. The recommendations include giving at-risk kids peanut-containing food as early as 4- to 6- months of age. Infants at risk are those with severe skin rashes or egg allergies; allergy tests are recommended beforehand. The agency paid for last year’s study and follow-up, and will issue final guidelines after a 45 day comment period.

The draft guidance echoes advice issued last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups in response to the ground-breaking study. That study involved more than 600 at-risk British infants. By age 5, peanut allergies were much less common in children who had started eating peanut-based foods before age 1, usually peanut butter or a peanut-based snack, than among children who’d been told to abstain.

The follow-up involved most of those children. After a year off, an additional three kids in both groups tested positive for peanut allergies. The allergies remained much less common in the early peanut eaters – affecting just under 5 percent of those kids versus almost 19 percent of the others. The new results suggest that early introduction of allergy-inducing foods results in “true tolerance” in at-risk kids, said Dr Stacy Dorris, an allergist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She was not involved in the research. — AP

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