New study looks at how to reduce the risk of children developing peanut allergies

WINNIPEG — A new study has found a way to potentially reduce the risk of children developing a peanut allergy.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Manitoba as well as McMaster University looked at how a baby’s sensitivity to peanuts was affected if the mother was eating peanuts while breastfeeding, and also introducing peanut products to babies before they were a year old.

Dr. Meghan Azad, who is an associate professor at the U of M and is also with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, is the lead researcher on this study and said the theory is called the triple exposure hypothesis.

“(Peanut allergies) are a big problem and have really increased over the last couple of decades,” said Azad. “One of the questions in the child study has been to try and understand why some kids get food allergies and others don’t and why it has increased so much in recent years.”

Earlier studies had previously looked at just introducing peanut products before a baby’s first birthday and it found the risk was reduced by 66 per cent.

Azad said this was a significant development as it showed previous advice from doctors to not introduce peanuts until kids were a couple of years old was not correct.

“Giving peanuts early is good and so the guidelines have been reversed.”

Azad is a breastfeeding researcher and she wanted to know if there were even more benefits with breastfeeding and breast milk.

The research found that when adding the mother eating peanuts while breastfeeding component, the risk dropped even more to 88 per cent.

Azad said now the next step is to figure out why this is the case.

“Our ideas are there is something in breast milk that is helping boost the infant’s immune system in a way that prevents allergies and that this happens when a mom is eating peanuts.”

While this theory hasn’t been tested on other food allergies, Azad said there is a possibility this could apply to more than just peanuts.

Azad said this new information could not only help the child, but also their family, as she noted a peanut allergy can be hard for a lot of people.

“Everyone has to be very careful about having nuts in the house,” she said, “but there is also a social impact of that, not being able to participate at birthday parties, possibly being bullied at school. So food allergies have a really big rippling effect in society.”

The study was done over 10 years and looked at kids born between 2010 and 2012. Researchers gathered data from 2,759 mothers and infants.

The study was published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

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