New research into preventing peanut allergies encourages parents to introduce their infants to peanuts at around the age of six months.

New research into preventing peanut allergies encourages parents to introduce their infants to peanuts at around the age of six months.

New report overturns old thinking on peanut allergies

Experts are recommending that parents feed their infants peanut products at age six months to prevent allergies later.

Conventional wisdom regarding children and peanuts has been turned on its head by a recently released report advising that children—especially those deemed at high risk because of severe eczema or egg allergies—be introduced to peanuts and peanut-based products between the ages of four and six months, to reduce the risk of a peanut allergy later in their lives.

Parents have, in recent years, been cautioned about feeding peanut-based products to children, in the wake of an alarming increase in the number of children developing severe—and sometimes fatal—peanut allergies. Many schools have had to introduce a ban on peanut-based products, to protect the number of children with life-threatening allergies.

However, a new study published this month by an international panel of experts that included Dr. Edmond Chan, director of the allergy clinic at BC Children’s Hospital and head of the Division of Allergy and Immunology and clinical associate professor in the UBC Department of Pediatrics, has concluded that consumption of peanut-based products at an early age reduces the risk of a peanut allergy.

“I can understand parents’ fears—they hear about children having severe reactions, or about parents having to carry EpiPens, and figure that it’s better to be safe than sorry,” says Chan. “But the safer thing to do is to prevent peanut allergy by feeding [infants] peanut-based products by the sixth month and giving those products regularly thereafter.”

The new guidelines state that infants who have no risk, or a low or moderate risk for allergy—which is the vast majority of infants—should begin ingesting peanut-based products at around the age of six months. The guidelines also include recommendations for preparing non-choking peanut foods that are suitable for infants, such as peanut butter or peanut flour mixed with pureed fruit or vegetables.

“This update to the peanut guidelines offers a lot of promise,” allergist Dr. Stephen Tilles, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said in a statement. “Peanut allergy has literally become an epidemic in recent years, and now we have a clear roadmap to prevent many new cases moving forward.”

According to a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

The prevalence of peanut allergies specifically rose more than three-fold to 1.4 percent of children in 2010, from 0.4 percent in 1997, according to a study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“Peanut allergy can be fatal, is usually lifelong, and has no cure. Considering a dramatic increase in prevalence of peanut allergy over the past decades, affecting an estimated one to two per cent of infants and young children in the U.S., there is a dire need for prevention,” said Dr. Anna Nowak-Wegrzyn, an associate professor of pediatrics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She acknowledges that the new method may be anxiety-producing for worried parents, but emphasizes that it will play a key role in prevention.

Dr. Chan agrees. “These new guidelines might be a surprise to parents who have been cautioned about feeding peanut-based products to infants. This has probably led to more peanut allergies. Feeding peanut-based products to children around six months is the best way to prevent an allergy to peanuts.”