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Feed kids peanuts early on to avoid allergies, new research suggests

WATCH: A new study suggests that young kids should be exposed to peanuts to help avoid peanut allergies. As Ross Lord reports, the findings could apply to more foods.

It’s advice that’s going against the grain, but new research is suggesting that feeding peanuts to babies as early as four months old could lessen the risk of allergies.

The findings are controversial because they contradict previous recommendations. Parents are often told to delay the introduction of peanuts to infants at risk of developing allergies but British researchers are now saying that an early start decreases the chances of becoming intolerant.

Keep in mind, peanut allergies have been steadily on the rise in recent decades. It’s more than doubled in the past 10 years across North America, and affects up to three per cent of kids.

Peanut allergies start early in life, kids rarely outgrow them and there is no cure.

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READ MORE: Did dated recommendations contribute to a spike in food allergies in kids?

For their research, doctors out of King’s College London worked with 640 infants from four to 11 months old. They were considered at high risk of developing peanut allergies because they had a pre-existing egg allergy or they were dealing with eczema.

WATCH: A new study suggests many peanut allergies can be prevented. Researchers say their findings could lead to major changes in food allergy guidelines. Mark McAllister reports.

Half of the kids were assigned to eating peanut-containing foods three or more times each week, while their counterparts had to avoid peanuts until they were five years old. Both groups had to fill out food questionnaires for the duration of the study.

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(Peanuts weren’t fed to the kids because of a choking hazard. Instead, the researchers used a small amount of peanut protein that was fed to the kids a few times each week.)

READ MORE: 5 common food allergies – How much is enough to trigger a reaction?

Turns out, only a small portion of the kids who ate peanuts as they were advised to developed peanut allergies at the five-year-old mark.

Only three per cent of the high-risk group that was raised eating peanuts developed allergic reactions. A staggering 17 per cent of the group who avoided peanuts ended up allergic to the food.

“This represents a greater than 80 per cent reduction in the prevalence of peanut allergy,” the researchers say.

Based on their findings, they say that early and continued consumption of foods with peanuts is safe and linked to decreasing the odds of developing an allergy.

“Deliberate avoidance of peanut in the first year of life is consequently brought into question as a strategy to prevent allergy,” they conclude.

It’s almost intuitive to experts weighing in on the findings.

READ MORE: What doctors are warning about parents about allergies and asthma in kids

“The earlier you introduce peanuts, the more likely you are to become tolerant to peanuts,” Dr. Brian Schroer, a pediatric allergic at the Cleveland Clinic said.

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“Tolerance is the goal.”

If you’re worried about a choking hazard, don’t feed your kids peanuts until they’re able to chew or stick to feeding them a safe amount of peanut butter, Schroer says. If your child’s had a food reaction before, talk to your pediatrician before testing out peanuts as a safety precaution.

Hives, swelling, vomiting and even trouble breathing are signs and symptoms of a food allergy.

READ MORE: Want to avoid allergies in your kids? Try turning off your dishwasher

“Over the years there have been some indications that early introduction of allegenic foods such as peanuts may be beneficial but it’s encouraging to see this type of research come out now that will definitely help future children in the prevention of food allergies,” Beatrice Povolo, spokesperson for Anaphylaxis Canada, said.

“We’re excited to see where this will take us,” she told Global News.

Ninety-eight per cent of the kids involved with the research completed the five-year study. It excluded any babies who were already showing strong signs of already having a peanut allergy. The researchers say this group needs to be studied further.

The study, called the LEAP study or Learning Early About Peanut Allergy, is ongoing. In their next steps, the researchers plan on monitoring the kids to see if they remain peanut-allergy free even if they stop consuming the food for 12 months.

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READ MORE: City kids more likely to have food allergies: study

The study’s full findings were published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Read the full research here.

In 2013, the Canadian Paediatric Society suggested that babies who are at high risk of developing a food allergy can be exposed to potential allergens at as early as six months old.

There are eight foods that account for 90 per cent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.

The old recommendations were based on the notion that introducing these foods later on in life would give children more time to strengthen their gut and mature their intestines. Doctors suggest that at the time, pediatricians thought that in infants, certain food particles could make their way through the intestine wall and into the blood stream sparking an allergic reaction.

Now, the CPS says that six months old is fair game. Delaying dietary exposure to peanuts, fish or eggs won’t reduce risk of developing a food allergy. And once these new foods are introduced, parents should keep offering them to their kids to build tolerance.

Babies are considered at high risk of developing a food allergy if they have a parent or sibling with an allergic condition, food allergy or asthma.

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READ MORE: Groups say babies may eat allergy-sparking foods as early as 6 months

Right now, about seven per cent of Canadians have food allergies. Other research suggests that food allergy in babies is on the rise, affecting more than 10 per cent of one-year-olds.

The number of people who have a food allergy in general is on the rise, but there’s no clear-cut answer as to why.

The CPS also provided more recommendations. Take a look at the full list here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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