“Avoid, eat, avoid, eat a little bit, wait, no…avoid…never mind, eat it”
These are the confusing, and seemingly never ending, suggestions for how to reduce the incidence of deadly peanut allergies among children.
Twenty years ago, deadly peanut allergies were quite rare. In the entire school, there might have been one or two children with a peanut allergy, but it wasn’t enough to cause widespread concern.
In recent years, however, the deadly peanut allergy epidemic has become so severe that many schools and childcare centres are now strictly peanut-free.
If you’re the parent of a child with a severe and potentially life threatening peanut allergy, you would be all too familiar with the worry involved. But there is also hope.
There’s now hope that we will find better treatments and cures to reduce, or even eliminate your child’s severe peanut allergy.
Can Exposure To Peanuts Really Build Tolerance?
According to Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia, around 3% of children have a peanut allergy. Of those, just 20% outgrow it. This means many children are left with a severe allergy, and must constantly take various precautions to avoid exposure to peanuts.
Researchers worked with a group of more than 60 children who had peanut allergies. One group was fed a probiotic, with small amounts of peanut protein. The other group was given a placebo. Participants were followed for 18 months to see whether they developed a tolerance to peanuts.
Of the children who were given the ground peanuts and probiotics, an astonishing 80% developed a tolerance for peanuts.
By comparison, just 3.6% of children given the placebo developed a tolerance for peanuts, after 18 months.
Does This Mean I Should Expose My Peanut-Allergic Child To Peanuts?
The results of the study are enough to encourage further research, and to develop potential treatments. It is not a good idea, however, to interpret or to apply the results yourself.
Because of the risk of a severe reaction, it’s vital that any attempts to decrease sensitivity and/or expose a peanut-allergic child to peanuts be done only under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider.
If you’re interested in potential ways to desensitise your child’s reaction to peanuts, it’s best to work with a physician who specialises in allergies.
The research does not, however, show how much of a role the probiotics played in reducing peanut sensitivity. Because probiotics don’t naturally contain peanuts, it is probably safe to give your child probiotics, after getting the okay from your doctor.
Probiotics have been shown to have a number of benefits, including reducing eczema and gastric issues. It seems that our gut microbiome plays a big role in our overall health and immune system responses.
Does Early Exposure Reduce The Risk Of Peanut Allergies?
Recommendations about when to introduce peanuts seem to change quite often. However, current studies, as well as the majority of research, show there is no benefit in avoiding peanuts (or tree nuts, which produce a different type of allergy). In fact, a lot of research suggests early exposure to peanuts reduces the risk of peanut allergies.
In March 2016, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy posted new information about how and why you should introduce peanuts, especially to those already exhibiting general allergy symptoms:
“There is good evidence that introducing peanuts into the diet of infants who already have severe eczema and/or egg allergy before 12 months of age can reduce the risk of these infants developing peanut allergy. If this applies to your infant, you should discuss how to introduce peanut with your doctor who has experience with food allergy”.
For a brief period, women were advised to avoid peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy, so as to reduce the risk and/or severity of peanut and nut allergies. However, researchers from the Boston Children’s Hospital found that mothers who snacked on nuts on a daily basis during pregnancy reduced their child’s risk of developing an allergy to nuts or peanuts by 30%.
What Causes Peanut And Nut Allergies?
We aren’t certain why there’s been such a drastic increase in peanut and tree nut allergies in recent years. There are many theories – ranging from gut damage, to the way peanuts are grown and processed, compared with methods used in previous decades.
Whatever the cause, a peanut allergy is the immune system’s response to the peanut protein. The immune system attacks it, as if it were a dangerous invader. Why some children’s immune systems responds so strongly still remains unclear.