For the first time, the US Food and Drug Administration is changing its label recommendation based on a qualified health claim to prevent food allergy. Indeed, peanut-containing foods suitable for infants may now disclose the potential for reducing the risk of a peanut allergy.
Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. In some people, the reaction can be so severe that it triggers anaphylaxis resulting in death. Stories such as these have made parents and doctors especially cautious over the years, and rightfully so. Concerned parents didn’t introduce peanut foods until their child was well into toddlerhood.
But we may have swung a little too far. Within the last two decades, peanut allergies in the US have tripled in number. What gives? Researchers think that in an effort to prevent peanut allergy, people are inadvertently creating immune systems that are even more sensitive to the proteins in peanuts. Paradoxically, the conventional wisdom that prevents giving peanut product to babies may actually be behind the increased risk for peanut allergy.
According to a recent landmark trial, researchers found that peanut exposure at a young age, as early as four months, had positive effects on the immune system. Instead of inducing allergies, as doctors previously predicted, the exposure decreased the risk of a peanut allergy in later adulthood by as much as 80 percent. This is true even for children who had a high risk of developing a peanut allergy, perhaps due to having severe eczema or an egg allergy.
In light of the recent findings, the National Institute of Health issued new guidelines that, for the first time, encouraged parents to ease off on the peanut brakes. With the supervision of pediatricians, parents were encouraged to introduce peanut-containing foods to infants as early as four to six months old.
Now, the FDA is expanding on this recommendation and making labels on peanut-containing foods more clear. They are specifically responding to the health claim that states “for most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age.”
Per the FDA, the goal is “to make sure parents are abreast of the latest science and can make informed decisions about how they choose to approach these challenging issues.” The label, however, will still advise parents to consult with their child’s physicians before making dietary changes.
Additional sources: CNN