Food allergies are the bane of many people’s existence. Even at the best of times, they can complicate life; serious allergic, reactions like anaphylactic shock, can end your life. The diagnosis and treatment of food allergies is important and this is particularly true in the case of infants. The younger we are, the more difficult it is to fight off life-threatening conditions. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) reports that 1 in every 13 children in the United States under the age of 18 has a food allergy.
Some have advocated introducing problematic foods early in life to help reduce the risk of children acquiring food allergies. This line of thinking follows what we know about vaccinations: injecting a small, non-infectious amount of a disease into a person encourages the development of antibodies. That way, there is very little chance that the subject will ever develop a serious infection from a more potent exposure.
Could exposing young children to potential allergens protect them from having an allergy in the future? Many have disputed the idea, stating that there is no concrete evidence to support such a notion when it comes to food allergies.
Recent evidence suggests differently. British doctor Robert J. Boyle of the Imperial College in London, England worked with a team of physicians to discover a more definitive answer. Their findings indicate that the possibility of developing an egg allergy reduces by 40% if babies begin to consume it at 4-6 months of age.
Even more encouraging was their data showing that infants introduced to peanut between 4-11 months were 70% less likely to become allergic. The babies consumed smooth, non-crunchy peanut butter, rather than peanut pieces, in order to eliminate the possibility of choking.
While Boyle and his colleagues classified the findings as “moderate intensity evidence,” their findings regarding fish warranted only a “low-certainty” designation. The goal here was to determine whether the risk of developing allergic rhinitis would lessen. Babies given fish between the ages of 6-9 months could be less likely to develop the condition, but the evidence was not as conclusive as the results with egg and peanut.
The team also concluded with great certainty that the there was no increase in the risk of a child developing celiac disease or gluten intolerance through the introduction of gluten at a young age.
The results of the studies cannot definitively say that the introduction of allergenic foods early in life is a sure way to avoid a subsequent allergy.
However, the findings for egg and peanut exposure were notable enough for Boyle to recommend that parents try adding these to their baby’s diet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2013 that food allergies in children increased by almost 50% over a 14 year period. That means this news on how to possibly prevent food allergies in young people is timely and important.