Peanut Allergies: Dr. Dean on BYU Radio

On March 5 th 2015, I was featured on BYU Radio’s Top of Mind show with Julie Rose to discuss peanut allergies.

THE PREVALENCE OF PEANUT ALLERGIES

Peanut allergies are the leading cause of food allergy deaths in the United States. Over the last 13 years, the prevalence of peanut allergies in this country has more than quadrupled.

The most striking change in relation to food allergies is that 30 years ago doctors would rarely see patients with a severe food allergy. In today’s world, these allergies are a lot more commonplace. For example, in a class of 30 children, it is not unusual for at least 4 or 5 children to have peanut allergies.

With the higher incidence of peanut allergies, the problem has really came to the forefront in schools and other areas. It’s also a double problem because as the number of peanut allergy patients increases, the more severe the reactions associated with eating peanuts become.

As a result of the increasing number of peanut allergies, many schools are now peanut-free environments and food labels carry peanut warnings.

WHAT CAUSES A PEANUT ALLERGY?

An allergy is when your immune system has an over-reaction to a foreign body. peanut allergies

Peanuts are a high protein food. Most food allergies that have high proteins in them can cause a severe reaction. When someone who is allergic to peanuts comes into contact with them, their immune system overreacts to these proteins. Every time they eat (or, in some cases, come into contact with) a peanut, their body thinks the proteins are a foreign body.

The immune system reacts to this foreign body by trying to fend them off. This causes an allergic reaction, which releases chemicals in the body.

The peanut is a widely available food that has always been a great, inexpensive source of protein. Parents have always felt comfortable giving their children peanuts. However, it is a high protein food and the higher the protein in a food, the more allergenic it is.

A CHANGE IN THINKING

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents should not feed peanuts to their children until they were at least three years old. The thinking was that this would reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy.

However a study just published in The New England Journal of Medicine says this thinking could be wrong. The study found that feeding peanut foods to babies dramatically reduces their chances of having a peanut allergy by the time they are 5 years old.

A LANDMARK STUDY

For the first time there is statistical evidence that clearly shows a different approach to prevent peanut allergies.

This study tracked babies that had a high risk of developing peanut allergies, from infancy to the age of 5. Some of the babies were given peanut butter or peanut-based foods from an early age, and some were told to stay completely away from these products.

Those babies that were given peanut-based food were found to be a lot less likely to develop peanut allergies than those who were told to stay away from these products.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

These findings could be an indication that parents should consider introducing their child to peanut or peanut based foods. Clearly an early introduction and exposure to peanuts could trigger an immune tolerance where their body gets used to the allergen and doesn’t over-react to it in the form of a peanut allergy.

The thinking seems to be that the first year of life is probably very critical for the immune system. It may be in this first year that the immune system determines whether it develops a tolerance to allergies or whether allergies will be exacerbated.

What is really coming to light is the hygiene hypothesis. I believe that a lot of the increase in allergies in western societies is due to the fact that we are sheltering our children from a lot of the environmental immune stimulants that would make a huge improvement in their overall immune system.

Overall our children may be better off if they are exposed to an allergen in their first of year of life. It is possible that there is a critical time in their immune system where introducing and exposing them to an allergen can make them immune tolerant.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Be careful and make sure understand what the study is saying. If your child is already allergic to peanuts DO NOT feed them peanuts. It is dangerous!

The first step is to talk to your pediatrician. When a child comes from an allergy prone family, the decision could be made to introduce the peanut in the first year of their life. Then, hopefully, this will eliminate the possibility of developing the allergy.

Click here to listen to the full radio segment: http://bit.ly/188uUhT

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