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Why Feeding Your Child Peanuts and Eggs Earlier May Lessen Allergy Risks

October 03, 2016
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If you haven’t fed your child peanuts or eggs yet, a new study suggests the sooner the better. Researchers at the Imperial College London looked at 150 studies on the early introduction of certain foods before a child’s first birthday. With a sample size of 200,000 children, researchers discovered that if babies eat eggs at 4-6 months old, they had 40 percent less of a chance of developing an egg allergy. Additionally, kids introduced to peanut products at 4-11 months old lessened their risk of developing a peanut allergy by 70 percent. The study also analyzed the effect of dairy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and wheat, but eggs and peanuts were the only food items to be linked to early introduction and allergy development. Researchers suggest that early introduction may prevent around 24 egg allergy cases per 1,000 people, and 18 peanut cases per 1,000 people. “Introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies,” said Robert Boyle, co-author of the study and pediatric allergy researcher. Previously, doctors recommended that children wait to eat eggs or peanut butter until ages 2 or 3. These suggestions have slowly pulled back, due to recent studies. The American Academy of Pediatrics took notice last year, and released an interim guidance on early introduction to peanuts. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also in talks to release a new guideline that formally recommends early introduction. “Evidence [suggests a] potential benefit of early peanut introduction with minimal risk… and reflects a reasonable starting point to help deter the recent increase in prevalence of peanut allergy,” said Matthew Greenhawt, a doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), around 15 million Americans have food allergies. Surprisingly, the number is rising. The Center for Disease Control reported that allergies in children have grown by 50 percent from 1997 to 2011. Peanut allergy cases alone have tripled within the decade. Researchers have no clear answer why such a significant growth occurred in developed countries, but 90 percent of those allergies are caused by eight foods: eggs, fish, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy and wheat. “I do think that the findings suggest a need to consider changes to clinical practice. Food allergies have the potential to result in life-threatening reactions,” said Dr. Sandra Hong, allergist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Hong was not a member of the study. Boyle does caution parents to consult their pediatrician before introducing eggs and peanuts into a child’s diet, especially if he or she already has a food allergy or eczema. For early peanut introduction, Boyle also advises against feeding babies whole nuts, due to choking hazards. Smooth peanut butter is a recommended alternative. While the results from the study are promising, the report still has its limitations. From the 150 studies, only five kids were used to calculate egg allergy risks and two kids for peanut allergies. Critics note that more studies should be done to validate Boyle’s findings.
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