Food Allergies are an area of specialty (and deep interest) within nutrition for me, so let’s call this series #FoodAllergyFriday, shall we?
This week, a monumental study was released. I was so excited to be able to be there (on behalf of my client, National Peanut Board, who compensates me as a consultant but not for this post or blog) to support the researchers and to share the results live on my twitter feed (@DietitianSherry). You have likely heard about the study, as it was heavily covered in the media this week. The LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut allergies) study was conducted in the UK and involved 640 infants at risk for developing peanut allergy (because they had eczema or egg allergy) recruited between the ages of 4-11 months. The infants were randomized to either avoid peanuts or to start eating peanuts (in an age-appropriate form such as in a commercial teething food or as thinned peanut butter). In advance of starting, these high-risk infants each had a skin test and an oral food challenge. Over the course of several years, the mothers kept detailed food diaries and brought the children in for periodic checks, blood tests, and additional testing to monitor whether or not they developed peanut allergies. When compared, the group who ate peanuts had up to an 87% reduction in their risk for developing a peanut allergy. The results are incredibly positive! You can read the whole article online for free in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It is important to remember that (1) these are high risk infants, (2) they were skin tested and had oral food challenges before the study, and (3) they were closely followed by allergists. If you think your child is at high risk (because a first degree relative has allergies or your child has eczema or already has been diagnosed with another food allergy) or you believe they may already have a food allergy, you should ask your pediatrician or an allergist for guidance before feeding your baby peanut containing foods.
For children not at high risk, the American Academy of Pediatrics has said that the evidence does not support delaying introduction as a means to prevent food allergies. Potential allergens can (and maybe should) be introduced along with other foods at around 4-6 months, once a child has shown tolerance to some other foods. Introduce the food in a safe form (thinned peanut butter vs. whole peanut, for instance), at home, early in the day. Be watchful, be mindful, but remember that ~96% of children will not have a food allergy.
Living with food allergies can be challenging and many misconceptions about them abound. Having a food allergy – or perhaps worse, a child with a food allergy – can be incredibly scary. It can lead to failure to thrive, picky eating, isolation, bullying, and anxiety. One of the most important things to do when you suspect food allergies is to get an accurate diagnosis. (We’ll talk about that on next week’s #FoodAllergyFriday post!) If you suspect that you or a loved on has a food allergy, see an allergist. If you can’t see an allergist, then see your family doctor for help. People who self-diagnose a food allergy are wrong a significant amount of the time (50-90% of the time, in fact). True food allergies affect just 4-6% of the population. If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, keep seeing your allergist, and see a registered dietitian for help ensuring that you or your child get all the nutrition you need for good health.