In the last 30 years, there’s been a rapid rise in allergies. Clearly there’s a genetic component, but other reasons include changing diets, lifestyles & environmental factors.
Due to this explosion of allergic reactions, doctors began recommending that infants with a family history of allergy avoid foods like peanuts. But now, the advice seems to be the opposite – to introduce these allergens early. Why?
Well, one reason starts with a paediatric allergist’s trip to Israel in 2003. While giving a lecture, Dr Gideon Lack asked his audience of Israeli doctors who’d seen a case of peanut allergy in the past year, only 3 put up their hand. In the UK, every paediatrician he knew would’ve raised their hand!
In Israel, doctors didn’t advise the avoidance of peanuts. Instead, parents often fed their infants a popular peanut-flavoured corn puff snack called “Bamba”. Dr Lack thought this early introduction could be the key & developed the ‘dual-allergen exposure hypothesis’.
He found that when an allergen first enters the body through the skin (rather than digesting it), our immune system treats it as an intruder and reacts. A good metaphor is that we take more kindly to a stranger who enters the house through the front door (i.e., the digestive system) than to one who enters through the bedroom window (broken skin).
The best defence is a good offence. Early introduction of peanuts & other allergens means that the body has a better chance of first experiencing the allergen through the ‘front door’.
Studies support this. By introducing peanuts to high-risk infants before 12 months of age, it can reduce the risk of developing a peanut allergy by 80%.
TIPS FOR INTRODUCING PEANUTS:
🥜 Put some smooth peanut butter on your finger & rub inside your baby’s mouth (not skin)
🥜 If no reaction after a few minutes, try ¼ teaspoon & observe for 30 min (the paste can be mixed into their food). Give ½ teaspoon & wait another 30 min.
🥜 Gradually increase & make sure it's in your baby's diet at least weekly
🥜 If you do notice signs of an allergic reaction, stop & seek medical advice
References: Lack 2012; Perkin et al 2016; Osbourne et al 2010