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Zorba Paster: Were We Wrong About Peanuts?

New Research Says Early Introduction Of Peanut Products Might Curb Allergies

Clyde Robinson (CC BY)

In 2000, the American Association of Pediatricians — worried about the dramatic increase in peanut allergies — recommended that parents keep peanuts away from their children until age 3.

The scientific reasoning behind this was simple: Feeding them peanuts early would stimulate an allergic response.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about whole peanuts, which could choke infants, but soft peanut products.

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The expectation was that peanut allergies would decrease, but instead, they are soaring. So, in 2010, that recommendation ended, leaving each doctor to offer his or her own advice about when to start peanuts.

Today, there are four times as many children with peanut allergies as there were in 2000. Four times is an enormous increase.

But, gentle readers, there is hope. New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that we may have been doing exactly the wrong thing. It seems we should feed children peanut stuff, don’t deny them.

The researcher in London noted that Jewish children living in the United Kingdom had 10 times more peanut allergies than children in Israel. Investigating, he found that Israeli moms feed their children a sweet peanut butter snack called Bamba. The proverbial light bulb went on in his head — perhaps, he thought, we should do what the Israelis do and feed peanuts to children early on, then watch their reaction.

He studied what we term an “enriched population” — people most likely to suffer the problem. In this case, it was children under age 1 who had a family history of peanut allergies in mom, dad or a sibling.

The children were tested to make sure they were not already peanut-allergic, and then he started feeding half of them — you guessed it — Bamba, that sweet Israeli peanut snack. For five years, half the children in this population were fed peanut stuff while the other half followed the usual advice of no peanuts at an early age.

The results were dramatic: 98 percent of the children who were fed peanuts early did not get any allergy. As for the children in the other group, one out of seven became allergic. This is dramatic.

The next study he did involved children who tested weakly positive to peanuts. In other words, they were already developing the allergy. Same grouping, half got peanuts and half did not. Five years later, 90 percent of the children who were fed peanut products as infants did not develop any allergy, while a whopping 35 percent of the stay-away-from-peanuts group did.

By the way, the children were eating the equivalent of eight peanuts three times daily. Not a lot of peanuts.

My spin: This study shows that we have been wrong. The early introduction of peanuts may actually be protective.

Now what to do? Should you just follow my advice? I don’t think so. Should you talk to your doctor about this? Yes, absolutely.

This research is very, very suggestive that we should jump on the let’s-eat-peanuts-early bandwagon, but I’m a cautious guy. Would I follow the advice of a medical columnist when it came to my kid? Perhaps. But more likely I would discuss this with my doctor (every situation is different) and then make a decision.

The best patient is the educated patient. Stay well.