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Peanut allergy could be avoided by indulging early in life, study suggests

POSTED: March 1, 2015 10:06 a.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

New research found that children susceptible to a peanut allergy might be able to avoid the condition by eating peanuts early in life.

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Mr. Peanut had better polish his monocle and shine his shoes. He has a whole new group of customers to entertain.

A new study (paywall) in The New England Journal of Medicine found that introducing peanuts into the diets of infants at risk for or already showing signs of peanut allergy decreased the development of the condition, a conclusion researchers said has dramatic implications for the medical community, as well as for parents.

"We have had a whole ethos within the practice of pediatrics and pediatric allergy that the way to avoid any allergy was avoidance. … At least with respect to peanuts, avoidance may actually worsen the problem," Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King's College London and senior author of the study, told The Wall Street Journal.

In the study, the 640 participating infants, who were all considered susceptible to a peanut allergy, were sorted into two groups. One mandated peanut consumption, while the other required peanut avoidance.

"(The research) found that 17.2 percent of the children who avoided peanuts until age 5 ended up with a peanut allergy compared with 3.2 percent of those who regularly ate peanuts," The Wall Street Journal reported.

Researchers cited the growing prevalence of peanut allergies as the inspiration for their work, noting that the condition is also increasingly present in Africa and Asia.

Between 1997 and 2008, the number of children in the U.S. with a peanut allergy more than tripled, Food Allergy Research & Education reported. "Around 20 percent of children eventually outgrow their allergy, but not before spending years carefully avoiding products that "may contain peanuts."

Additionally, even those children who were not formally diagnosed but considered at risk for food allergies were traditionally kept away from peanuts until their third birthday, in accordance with guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics, The New York Times's "Well" blog reported. The new research turns this conventional wisdom on its head.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News's chief health and medical editor, appeared on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday to discuss the findings, addressing the concerns of parents who feel caught in the crosshairs of ever-changing medical research.

"Besser said he understood parents' frustration with changing health information but (said) every new, well-designed study helps us learn. The current thinking is that any child not at high risk for allergies should be exposed to a wide variety of foods as a baby," ABC News reported.

A child's vulnerability to food allergies can be assessed with a pediatrician or allergy specialist, Time reported. With a doctor's blessing, peanuts should be introduced soon after a baby is weaned off of breast milk or formula, researchers said.

"Our study demonstrated that (peanuts are) safe as long as whole nuts are avoided for their choking hazard," study co-author George Du Toit told Time.
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