Parents News Now

Should We Be Giving Infants Peanut Butter to Prevent Food Allergies?

Could saving your kids from a peanut allergy really be as easy as introducing them to peanut butter earlier?

peanut butter toast with heart Shutterstock
Could saving your kids from an allergy to peanuts really be as easy as introducing peanut butter to them earlier?

Thanks to a new study, It certainly looks that way!

But let's back up for a second.

The prevalence of peanut allergy in the U.S. has risen more than 300 percent since 1997. Then last year, a team of British researchers discovered a promising—if somewhat controversial—method for reversing those numbers: the early introduction of peanuts.

For the study, infants with a high risk of developing an allergy to peanuts (those who already had eczema or egg allergies or both) were given peanuts frequently between the ages of four and 11 months. The result? Kids who tried peanuts as infants had an 81 percent lower rate of peanut allergy by the time they were 5 years old, compared with kids who had avoided them.

The study was met with controversy, however, as it went against doctors' standard recommendation that parents refrain from giving allergy-triggering foods to kids until they were older, because young immune systems couldn't yet handle them.

But now a new study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine backs up the early introduction theory. Using the same children who took part in 2015, researchers found early exposure to peanuts protects kids from developing peanut allergies even after they later go a full year without eating them.

"There was no statistically significant increase in allergy after 12 months of avoidance, in those who had consumed peanut during the [2015] trial," the study authors said. "Four years of consuming peanuts was sufficient to induce stable unresponsiveness to peanut, independent of the level of subsequent consumption of peanut."

Pretty reassuring news! But don't go crazy with the Skippy just yet. The study authors said that more research is still needed to determine if the protective benefits of the early peanut intervention last long term. Which means it's probably a good idea to consult with an allergist or pediatrician before you start spreading on the smiles.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.