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Allergy Prevention Goes Beyond Peanuts

Peanut Market News January 20, 2018

Allergy Prevention Goes Beyond Peanuts

Evolving science is changing how we recommend feeding babies. Manish Ramesh, M.D., discussed several very important points in his article - How to Prevent Your Child From Developing a Peanut Allergy. On preventing peanut allergies through early peanut introduction, but raised an even more important question about the possibility of reducing the risk of allergies to other foods through early exposure. The science is promising.

Breakthrough food allergy research in recent years has led to a paradigm shift in the way pediatricians like me talk about and recommend early allergen inclusion for our patients. Studies have shown that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods may actually increase the risk of developing allergies to these foods.

Dr. Ramesh article details the landmark Learning About Peanut (LEAP) study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015, showing that the inclusion of peanut in the diet reduced the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 80 percent if fed early and consistently for the first five years of life.

What was not discussed was that following the study, the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study, also published in in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2016, found that introducing a diverse set of potential allergens (wheat, dairy, egg, peanut, fish and sesame) in infants' diets was safe. Even more notably, more than 1,300 children participated in the second study, and among those infants who were consistently fed these allergens, the risk of any food allergy was reduced by two-thirds. In addition to this study, independent studies increasingly demonstrate that dietary diversity early in life is associated with a reduced risk of allergies, asthma, and atopic disease in general.

While the medical community has been encouraged by this recent shift in thinking, particularly the Food and Drug Administration's acknowledgement of the importance of early allergen inclusion regarding peanuts, it is imperative for both doctors and parents to continue to recognize that the allergy story includes more than peanuts. In fact, 77 percent of people with a food allergy are allergic to something other than peanuts. If we want to decrease rates of all food allergies, we need to help families find comfort in introducing a diverse diet, early on, in their babies' lives. If we focus on peanuts alone we may miss the important opportunity in early introduction of all foods.

So what does this mean for parents? It means quality research proves that we should encourage parents to introduce a wide variety of foods into children's diets around four to six months of age, including the potentially allergenic ones, and keep them in their child's diet consistently. As pediatricians and parents, we understand and appreciate that introducing solid foods for the first time can be both exceedingly joyful and simultaneously daunting. Science can help build trust. These early diverse meals can help establish a nutritional foundation that can reduce the risk of a food allergy in the future while maintaining the joy of sharing a family's love for all foods.

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