Eating peanuts may prevent allergies

Mothers who shield their babies from peanut products may be doing more harm than good, warns a major report.

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The report suggests Britain’s allergy epidemic is being fuelled by Government advice which has led many mothers to stop eating peanuts during pregnancy and to avoid giving them to children at an early age.

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The findings of a House of Lords committee follow a series of authoritative studies showing that allergy rates are low, or non-existent, in countries where babies are weaned on peanuts.

In contrast, Britain has witnessed a surge in childhood allergies in the last decade, with up to 8% of youngsters experiencing a reaction before they go to school.

The science and technology committee’s allergy report is expected to call on the Department of Health to change its official advice.

Ministers have admitted that their guidelines – which state that babies may be at higher risk of developing a nut allergy if the mother or father have a history of asthma, eczema or hay fever – may be ‘entirely wrong and counter-productive’.

The advice says: “If your baby is in this higher-risk group, you may wish to avoid eating peanuts and peanut products when you’re pregnant and breast-feeding.”

The Department of Health goes on to recommend that these mothers should avoid introducing peanuts into their child’s diet until the age of three.

Health minister Ivan Lewis told the committee: “We are going to seek the view of the independent expert committee. Having done that, we will then consider whether the existing advice needs updating, refreshing, completely changing, but we need to consider what the advice tells us.”

In evidence to the committee Professor Jonathan Hourihane, child allergy expert at Cork University Hospital, said: “In less Westernised parts of the world, such as West Africa, they can eat peanuts at the age of six or eight months without ever developing a peanut allergy.

“Peanut is not the problem all around the world that we have the perception it might be in the UK.”

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Sue Hattersley, of the Food Standards Agency, told peers: “The evidence we are getting from the Jewish children in Israel – where they use peanut snacks as weaning food – is that, if you have a high-level oral exposure, that actually leads to the development of tolerance whereas if you have just a very low level exposure that may be leading to sensitisation.”

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