Food Allergy Science vs Parents

Due to several misleading media reports over the last couple of weeks, a new study that shows that feeding young children peanuts reduces the incidence of peanut allergy has caused a great deal of angst in the parents of food allergic children.  I should know, I’m one of them.

For years, I felt guilty because I gave my food allergic child peanut butter at the age of 1, just as recommendations for the introduction of major food allergens were changing to the age of 3.  What kind of terrible mom was I to give peanut butter at 11 months?  What if I’d actually caused her food allergy?  And now, the science shows I should have fed her peanuts more!  I feel like I just received a good case of whiplash.

But if you actually ignore the soundbites about a peanut allergy “cure” in the media and dig down into the study, the science simply indicates that avoidance is not decreasing peanut allergy.  Instead, introducing peanuts earlier reduced the incidence of peanut allergies.  The key word being reduced; this is not a cure and some children will still develop a peanut allergy, regardless.  Here’s a well-balanced overview of the study from Dr. Bruce Mazer:  http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/26/bruce-mazer-cracking-the-peanut-allergy/

I’m not one to ignore science but neither do I set all of my sights on its perfection.  Particularly with the human body and auto-immune disorders, science rarely gives a black and white answer.  Instead, it hints maddeningly at clues that may or may not be disproven down the line.  Here are some examples of previously held scientific theories or absolutes that have been or are in the process of being disproven:

Do you remember when all food dye couldn’t possibly cause hyperactivity in children who ingested it – it was all in a mom’s head?  Now there are studies to show otherwise:  http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/food-dye-adhd

Either you have Celiac Disease or you don’t.  Everything else was the result of self-indulgent hypochondriacs:  New studies on Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity show that it is potentially a very real issue for a small number of people:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25701700

Hygiene hypothesis is being called into question (or at least its assertion as the only cause of growing auto-immune diseases) due to the growing number of food allergies in 3rd world countries that were previously not showing the same growth as Western countries:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/study-debunks-myth-that-were-too-clean-for-our-own-good/article4586774/

So what do you take out of this?  In my opinion, keep an eye on recent scientific studies but be sure to look at the actual studies which often don’t conclude the same things that the sound bites on the media provide.  Secondly, the studies are often contradictory from one year to the next so simply do the best you can as a parent and do your best to let the guilt go.  Whether I fed my child peanut butter too early or not soon enough, the fact remains that she has a peanut allergy.  Banging my head against the wall with self-recrimination helps neither me nor my food allergic child.