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Does peanut exposure in infants help reduce peanut allergies?

The best way to keep kids from developing peanut allergies is to keep them away from peanuts, right? Not so fast.

A groundbreaking study published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that exposing allergy-prone children to peanuts while they were infants dramatically reduced their chances of developing a peanut allergy. How dramatically? Try between 70-86 percent.

Researchers in the U.K. divided over 600 children into two groups, one that was skin test positive to peanuts and one that was skin test negative. Each group was then further subdivided into peanut-exposed and peanut avoidance. All of the children were followed for five years, then underwent a peanut food challenge to test for an allergy. In addition to lower rates of peanut allergies, the peanut-exposed group showed increased levels of antibodies that are believed to play a protective role against the development of allergy.

While more studies are needed — as this study only dealt with high-risk children, and it’s unknown whether the same results would apply to other highly allergenic foods like eggs, milk or shellfish — the data goes a long way in solidifying what the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease already recommend. Introduction of highly allergenic foods does not need to be delayed beyond 4 to 6 months of age to prevent food allergy.

Talk to your pediatrician first

As many of you already may be aware, peanut allergies are extremely serious, often life-threatening — so if your child is at risk of having a food allergy, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician before introducing certain foods at home.

It’s also important to remember to provide these foods in textures that are safe for your child’s age and skill level. Infants should not consume hard peanuts or sticky peanut butter because they present a choking hazard. Instead, try offering a biscuit or cracker made with peanuts as an ingredient. You can also mix peanut butter with another food, like yogurt.