FEEDING babies peanuts at four months old can help to prevent deadly nut allergies, scientists claim.
Experts say that giving infants just 2g of peanut butter three times a week slashes their risk of developing the condition by 80 per cent.
The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also found that babies with no or only mild eczema are at a low risk of having a peanut allergy and can be introduced to peanuts at home.
But infants with risk factors for peanut allergy, such as severe eczema, egg allergy or both, should be seen by a specialist before trying it, experts advised.
Living in fear
Study co-author Dr George du Toit, of the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, said: “Peanut allergic families live in fear of life threatening anaphylaxis, but in young children it is fairly rare.
“Their aversion is often quite mild, just with a few little blisters around the mouth. That is when you should be cautious.”
His team studied 640 infants under 11 months with either an egg allergy or moderate to severe eczema.
They found that 3.2 per cent of babies in the treatment group who ate 2g of peanut butter three times a week developed a peanut allergy after five years.
That was compared with 17.2 per cent of youngsters who weren’t fed any peanuts.
The same children were tested again at six years old, 12 months after the original trial, and they had stayed resistant to peanut allergy.
Scientists are yet to agree on an ideal amount of peanut babies should consume to minimise their allergy risk.
But, based on their analysis, this study’s researchers recommend babies are fed 8g of peanut protein, or one heaped teaspoon of peanut butter, at least twice a week.
Introducing cooked eggs early on, in the same way as peanuts, can also reduce infants’ chance of developing an egg allergy, Dr du Toit added.
But he admitted that the research into allergy prevention was at an early stage.
Sarah Coe, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “Current UK government advice is that peanuts can be introduced in an age-appropriate form, such as crushed or ground peanuts and smooth peanut butter, from around six months of age alongside other foods as part of complementary feeding.
“There is insufficient evidence to show that introducing peanuts before the age of six months reduces the risk of peanut allergy.
But she added: “Research shows that babies who have not eaten peanuts at age six to 12 months may be more likely to develop a peanut allergy.
“Once introduced, and if tolerated, it is important that parents regularly include peanuts in the infant’s usual diet.
“If there is a history of food allergies or eczema in the infant or immediate family members, then parents should seek advice from a GP or health visitor before giving their child peanuts.”
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