Feeding babies egg and peanut ‘may prevent allergies’
Feeding babies quantities of egg and peanut may reduce the risk of them developing allergies to these foods, a new study claims.
Scientists led by a team from Imperial College London have carried out the largest analysis to date on the effect of feeding allergenic food to babies by sifting through data from 146 studies involving more than 200,000 children.
The results of the study, which was commissioned by the U.K. Food Standards Agency, suggest feeding children egg between the ages of four and six months may reduce their risk of developing egg allergy.
Researchers also found that feeding children peanut, between the ages of four and eleven months, may reduce risk of developing peanut allergy.
In addition, the team analysed milk, fish (including shellfish), tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but didn't find enough evidence to show introducing these foods at a young age reduces allergy risk.
Lead author Dr Robert Boyle said the new analysis pools all existing data, and suggests introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies.
"Until now we have not been advising parents to give these foods to young babies, and have even advised parents to delay giving allergenic foods such as egg, peanut, fish and wheat to their infant,” he said.
Allergies to foods, such as nuts, egg, milk or wheat, affect around one in 20 children in the U.K. They are caused by the immune system malfunctioning and over-reacting to these harmless foods. This triggers symptoms such as rashes, swelling, vomiting and wheezing.
"The number of children diagnosed with food allergies is thought to be on the rise," added Dr Vanessa Garcia-Larsen. "There are indications that food allergies in children have become much more common over the last 30 years.”
She added that the reasons behind this rise are still unclear, though doctors may be better at recognising food allergy, or there may be environmental factors involved.
Dr Boyle cautioned against introducing egg and peanut to a baby who already has a food allergy, or has another allergic condition such as eczema.
"If your child falls into these categories, talk to your GP before introducing these foods,” he noted, adding that whole nuts should not be given to babies or toddlers due to the choking hazard.
The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.