​Exposing infants to peanut protein lowers risk of allergy, study finds

When we met Evan Woollen, 8, he was enjoying a peanut butter sandwich. When he was a baby, his mother Kerry thought that would never happen.

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Evan Woollen
CBS News

"He was borderline allergic to peanuts, which I personally think would have developed into a peanut allergy," said Kerry Woolen.

At 10 months, Evan was enrolled in a study challenging the idea that peanuts should be avoided in the first year of life.

"I had quite little bits of peanuts," Evan told us. "I had this peanut snack which I had about three times a week."

Researchers followed 640 British babies 4 months to 11 months old who were considered at high risk of developing peanut allergies because they had eczema or an egg allergy. One group avoided peanuts; the other - that included Evan - ate a small amount of peanut protein every week. After five years the kids eating peanuts had 81 percent fewer peanut allergies than the group that didn't eat them.

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CBS News

That's exactly the opposite of guidelines from 15 years ago, withdrawn in 2008, that recommended excluding peanuts from the diets of infants and toddlers at high risk for allergy.

"I think this should change clinical practice," said Dr. Hugh Sampson.

Sampson is an expert on pediatric allergies but was not involved in the trial.

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Dr. Hugh Sampson
CBS News

"I would encourage people with babies between 4 and 8 months of age to come in and get evaluated and get started on peanut protein if you are at high risk," said Dr. Sampson.

Today, Evan has no signs of peanut allergy.

"My favorite food is peanut butter which does have a lot of nuts in it," Evan said.

Researchers excluded children who were highly allergic to peanuts when given special skin testing. So any strategy to give peanuts to children should include input from a healthcare provider.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook