KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New research reveals that feeding babies peanut products dramatically reduces the chances of the child developing peanut allergy, an increasingly common allergy. The landmark study found more than an 80 percent reduction.
At meal time for Emily Brown and her daughters, Catherine and Hannah, the jar on the table holds sunflower seed butter because the girls are allergic to peanuts.
"You're always on alert because peanut butter is such a prevalent food in our society," said Brown.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds parents can greatly reduce the chances of peanut allergy by feeding their babies peanut foods starting at four to 11 months old. The study looked at babies who were high risk because of other allergies.
Some had even tested positive for peanut allergy on a skin test, but hadn't had symptoms. Half were fed a dissolvable peanut snack or smooth peanut butter three times a week. At five years old, only three percent of those children had developed peanut allergy compared to 17 percent of those who were told to avoid peanuts.
"It's a very significant finding," said Dr. Jay Portnoy, an allergist at Children's Mercy Hospital.
Dr. Portnoy says it's clear that avoidance, what pediatricians once recommended for babies, was not the answer. Peanut allergy cases doubled in the past decade. He says by feeding babies peanut products, you're likely desensitizing them to the allergen.
"It seems to desensitize the patient. It makes it so they make a normal immune response to the food that they eat," he said.
Doctors advise parents against trying this on their own. Children in the study were tested to make sure they didn't already have a peanut allergy.
Brown says her girls had not eaten peanut products when they were younger than 11 months. However, she did eat them while breastfeeding her oldest.
"It's exciting," she said of the research findings, "But I do think there could possibly be some genetic links."
Nonetheless, the research shows that introducing peanuts to baby under a doctor's supervision is safe and drastically lowers the chance of the allergy.