Researchers made an incredible discovery in 2008. Why won’t we listen?
In his 2013 comedy special “Oh My God,” Louis CK acknowledges that children with nut allergies should be protected, but adds that “maybe, if touching a nut kills you, you’re supposed to die.”
As someone who’s dealt with a lifelong allergy to tree nuts, this tickles me immensely. Because evolutionarily speaking, he’s right — those of us with food and airborne allergies probably should be dead by now. The only things standing between us and anaphylactic shock is hyper-vigilance (and EpiPens).
Approximately 3 million people in the US are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education, the number of children with these allergies tripled from 1997 to 2008.
There is no known cure for food allergies, but there may be a way to get rid of them once and for all.
According to new guidelines updated by the National Institute of Health, parents should expose their children to peanut-based products within the first 4 to 6 months of their lives. This is a complete 180 from everything we’ve been told: Until 2008, pediatricians recommended that parents avoid introducing nuts into their children’s diets until they were 3 years old. This advice was later found to be more or less pointless, but to this day American parents remain wary of feeding their children these kinds of foods.
This is not the case in Israel, where children are exposed to peanut-based foods from a very early age. In 2008, Gideon Lack — a pediatric allergy expert at King’s College London — noticed that Israeli children were 10 times less likely to have peanut allergies than Jewish children in Britain and the US. He attributed this to the popularity of Bamba, a peanut butter-flavored snack that Israeli parents frequently give their kids as soon as they’re able to eat solid foods.
Lack and his research team tested the theory by taking 640 babies who were at high risk for peanut allergies and randomly selecting half to be exposed to peanut products and half to avoid them. Five years later, the researchers discovered that only 3% of peanut eaters became allergic, as opposed to the 17% of peanut avoiders.
Exposing babies to peanuts has the potential to help curtail the allergy in the long run, but it will only work if parents take the time to safely expose their children to the products. Families with relatives prone to food allergies should make it a priority to introduce peanuts early on. Doctors recommend that children who are at high-risk for food allergies should try allergenic foods for the first time while under the supervision of their pediatrician. Parents who are exposing their children to peanut-based products should aim to do so at least three times a week.
Peanut and tree nut allergies can be fatal, but usually, they’re just inconvenient. And you don’t have to suffer from one yourself to be affected — the rise in nut allergies in children in recent years has led many schools to ban peanut products for safety reasons.
It’s possible that if parents are proactive and safely introduce allergens to their children that we could completely eradicate food allergies in the not-too-distant future.
If one child doesn’t have to go through life coveting their friend’s peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, it will all be worth it.