Peanuts are one of the most common – and most serious – allergens. In some individuals, the body’s immune system overreacts to a protein in the peanut, causing a variety of symptoms, which can range from mildly irritating to lethal. Peanut allergies typically begin in childhood, and most parents do whatever they can to avoid their child developing a life-threatening allergy. This is especially true if the child is already showing symptoms of other allergies, is sensitive to peanuts in infancy, or if others in the family already have this allergy.
However, it is still unclear if there is anything we can do to help children avoid such a fate. If there is a way to prevent peanut allergies, what is it? Should we ensure that infants have exposure to peanuts while they are young, or keep them as far away as possible? Opinions on this matter can be quite polarizing. A 2015 study1 aimed to shed some light on this issue and help settle the ongoing debate.
Researchers followed 640 children who already showed signs of other allergies, from about four months of age until they were five years old. They divided the children into two separate categories: those who were already showing signs of sensitivity to peanuts and those who showed no signs of problems with peanuts. Then, they split those two groups, with half the children of each group required to consume peanuts, and the other half required to avoid them.
When the researchers looked at the incidence of peanut allergies in these five-year-old children, the results were quite startling. In the group that didn’t show any initial signs of peanut sensitivity, 13.7% of the children who were required to avoid peanuts developed allergies. Amazingly, only 1.9% of the children who did consume peanuts developed the allergy. When it came to the children who were showing signs of peanut sensitivity in early infancy, by the time they were five years of age, 35.3% of those who avoided peanuts throughout childhood developed peanut allergies, whereas only 10.6% of those who consumed peanuts did.
This is an early study, and we need more research to know if it truly is beneficial to expose children to peanut products while they are young, but the evidence is pointing in that direction. If you suspect your child is showing signs of peanut allergy, then discuss this newer approach with your doctor.
6 Quick Facts About Peanuts2
- Peanuts are a member of the legume family, not related to tree nuts. A person can be allergic to peanuts and not be allergic to tree nuts, or they can be allergic to both.
- Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Health Canada considers it a priority allergen.
- Children who aren’t predisposed toward developing allergies can begin to consume peanut products when they are around 6 months old.
- Popular understanding used to be that peanut allergies were life-long; however, some studies have shown certain children may outgrow their peanut allergy.
- In the past, some products referred to peanuts by other terms on their labels. You shouldn’t encounter these anymore, since Health Canada updated the rules for labelling products with peanuts. Examples of previously used terms include arachis oil, beer nuts, goober nuts/peas, ground nuts, kernels, mandelonas, nut meats, and valencias.
- Sometimes peanuts are in non-food items, such as ant baits, bird feed, mousetraps, pet food, cosmetics and sunscreens, craft materials, medications and vitamins, mushroom growing medium, and the stuffing in toys.