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Eating peanuts while breastfeeding could protect babies from allergy, study suggests

Nov 10, 2017

New mothers could help protect their children from developing allergies by eating peanuts while they are a breastfeeding, a new study suggests. In the latest evidence to advocate that youngsters should be exposed to nuts early in life, researchers in Canada found children were five times less likely to develop an allergy if their mothers had eaten nuts before weaning and introduced nuts before one year old.

Parents should discuss their concerns and be guided by a health professional on the best way to introduce peanuts into the diet.

Holly Shaw, Allergy UK

Dr Tracy Pitt, lead author of the Humber River Hospital in Ontario, said: “We found that introduction of peanut before 12 months of age was associated with a reduced risk of peanut sensitization by school age, particularly among children whose mothers consumed peanuts while breastfeeding.

“These results add to emerging evidence that early peanut consumption during infancy can reduce the risk of peanut sensitization later in childhood, and suggest this risk could be further reduced in breastfed infants by encouraging maternal consumption of peanuts during lactation.

“Both passive peanut exposure through breast milk and peanut introduction in the first year of life may decrease peanut sensitisation at age seven.”

The government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN), which advises Public Health England and the NHS, is currently reviewing advice on peanuts as part of a wide ranging report on child nutrition and is due to report later this year.

But it is likely to follow recommendations made by the Food Standards Agency’s Committee on Toxicity which recently warned that the ‘deliberate exclusion or delayed introduction of specific allergenic foods may increase the risk of allergy’.

In January, the National Institute of Health in the US updated its own guidelines saying that infants should be exposed to peanut-containing food from as early as four months to desensitise their immune system. However the new study suggests that mothers could begin building tolerance from day one.

The allergy epidemic is growing annually in the UK, with number of sufferers increasing by five per cent each year. In 2011/2012 here were 18,471 hospital admissions for allergies in England, but that had grown to 25, 093 by 2015/2016 and the number of cases of life-threatening anaphylactic shock has risen six fold in 20 years.

Rates of peanut allergy have risen in recent decades and one in 50 school-age children in the UK is now affected by the condition. Yet nut allergies are rare in Mediterranean countries where children are exposed from infancy.

In the new study 342 children were followed up from birth to aged seven to see if they had developed a peanut allergy. Where mothers had eaten peanuts during breastfeeding as well as introducing nuts before 12 months, just 1.7 per cent of children developed an allergy, compared to the overall incidence of 9.4 per cent.

The study concluded that the dual effect of breastfeeding and early introduction was the most beneficial for youngsters.

Current NHS weaning guidance suggests that parents should offer nut based food from the age of six months to see if children are allergic, but does not recommend keeping up the exposure.

Allergy UK said parents should discuss with their doctor or health worker when it was best to introduce nuts into their children’s diet.

“At Allergy UK we know that weaning infants can be a particularly worrying time for parents,” said nurse advisor Holly Shaw.

“If parents are concerned about the introduction of peanut into their infant’s diet, and specifically those who have existing allergy such as eczema, asthma or a food allergy, it is important that it is done in a safe and age appropriate way, for example not giving an infant whole peanuts as they pose a choking risk. 

“Most importantly, they should discuss their concerns and be guided by a health professional on the best way to introduce peanuts into the diet.”

Public Health England has warned that until guidelines are changed in the UK, parents should stick to the current NHS advice, and never feed whole nuts to under fives as it could be a choking hazard.

Tracy J. Pitt, Allan B. Becker, Moira Chan-Yeung, Edmond S. Chan, Wade T.A. Watson, Rishma Chooniedass, Meghan B. Azad, Reduced risk of peanut sensitization following exposure through breast-feeding and early peanut introduction, In Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2017

Links : https://uk.news.yahoo.com/eating-peanuts-while-breastfeeding-could-210000541.html