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FDA Approves Baby Item That Could Prevent Peanut Allergies

Photograph by Twenty20

Only a few short months after top allergy experts reversed their recommendations on the best way to lower children’s risk for developing peanut allergies, a new product claiming it can actually prevent them has hit the market.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Hello, Peanut—a box of eight numbered packets containing small but ever-increasing amounts of powdered peanuts—which is now available on Amazon and in stores. The food additive product was developed by a physician as a way to carefully and slowly introduce peanuts to babies, which experts now think is the best way to prevent severe peanut allergies that have been on the rise over the last two decades.

There are two steps to Hello, Peanut’s early introduction method. Parents start with the Introduction Kit: a week’s worth of envelopes containing ever increasing amounts of peanuts. Day 1’s portion is the powder of barely a single peanut (200 milligrams) cut with sprouted oat blends, according to the New York Times. The powder gets stirred into whatever solid food the baby is eating: rice cereal, mashed bananas, breast milk.

Over the week, babies work up to Day 7, which contains between three and seven peanuts’ worth of powder (2 grams) and oat powder. All the while, parents should observe the baby for any reactions.

Hello, Peanut is based on the early introduction method for preventing peanut allergies, which is a recent reversal in how doctors and pediatricians recommend parents introduce solids to kids. For the last 10 years, parents had been encouraged not to give kids peanut butter—or foods that contained peanuts—until after they turned 2 years old.

Some experts think that the delay actually might have made allergies—as well as deaths and hospitalizations from them—more common and severe, since young immune systems never had a chance to develop protections against these highly allergenic legumes. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends low-risk babies be exposed to peanut products as early as the time they start solids, which is around 5 months old.

If children show no reactions after taking in the peanut concoctions, parents can then switch to the Hello, Peanut maintenance pack—important for allergy prevention in that the risk-lowering effects don’t last unless peanuts and peanut products are consumed regularly.

The cost for a box of Hello, Peanut is $25 to get started (the gradually increasing first seven packets, plus one maintenance packet), and $20 for an additional eight maintenance packs, which the company recommends be given to babies up to three times per week until a child can eat peanut butter or peanuts without choking.

While this new system takes the guesswork out of amounts and so on, experts note that you could also just water down small blobs of peanut butter and give that to your baby for the same effect (and for quite a bit less cost).

The main point is to introduce peanuts, watch for reactions, seek medical care if your child does react (stop giving them peanut products if it’s a mild reaction, and bring it up at their next well-baby exam; take them for immediate treatment if the reaction is severe). If your child doesn’t react, be sure to keep peanuts and peanut butter in their diet.

Not everyone is a fan of Hello, Peanut. Some worry that parents whose kids have established peanut allergies will think they can use it to treat severe allergies, which they can't, Roni Caryn Rabin reports in the Times. “People have already come up to me and said, 'This is great news, there’s a cure for your son, you just need to feed him a little of these products that are coming out and he won’t be allergic anymore.’ That could be potentially dangerous,” Lianne Mandelbaum, who runs a website for people with food allergies, told Rabin.

Still others worry the company is over-promising in its claims, though the FDA has pointed out that the Hello, Peanut box includes a statement that evidence of the product’s effectiveness at preventing allergies in kids who would have otherwise developed them is limited. Parents of those children should first consult a doctor before using Hello, Peanut.

Also, parents of babies who might be susceptible to severe peanut allergies—such as an older sibling who has them or maybe the parent—are advised to ask their pediatrician before using Hello, Peanut (or the watered-down peanut butter method).

Product image via Hello, Peanut

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