Kid Eating Peanut Butter

Introducing kids to eggs and peanuts between the ages of 4 to 6 months old may reduce the risk of their developing allergies to these foods later according to a new study. Researchers analyzed information from nearly 150 previous studies involving more than 200,000 children and examined what happens when certain foods are introduced to them before the end of their first year of life. The results showed that kids introduced to eggs between the ages of 4-6 months were 40 percent less likely to develop an allergy to them than those who started eating eggs later.

The same results applied to kids introduced to foods containing peanuts between the ages of 4 to 11 months old. They were 70 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy than those who started eating peanuts later. One of the leaders of the study, Dr. Robert Boyle, a pediatric allergy researcher at Imperial College (London), concluded that introducing eggs and peanuts earlier brought down the risk of developing allergies to them. These two items are the biggest contributors to childhood food allergies.  Boyle went on to say that children who already have another allergic condition such as eczema should not automatically be fed eggs and peanuts early in life nor should babies and toddlers be fed whole nuts due to the risk of their choking. Smooth peanut butter however is acceptable.

Back in 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended babies under the age of 1 not be fed allergenic foods. Doctors used to recommend earlier that children at high risk for developing allergies should avoid foods like peanuts and eggs till they were 2-3 years old.  But, the Center for Disease Control found they actually increased by roughly 50% over 14 years if introduced at a later age. It is a reflection of how radically thinking on the subject has shifted when the AAP recently did an about turn and issued interim guidelines, recommending that kids with a high risk of peanut energy should be introduced to peanuts early. Present findings published on Sept 20th in the journal JAMA suggested the early introduction of eggs could prevent 24 cases of egg allergies per 1,000 people in a population where the rate of egg allergies was above 5.4 percent. Similarly, 18 cases of peanut allergies could be prevented per 1,000 people in a population where the rate of peanut allergy is 2.5 percent.  These findings are likely to be supported soon by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who are expected to issue guidelines that suggest the same thing.

While the above recommendations reflect “confidence in the evidence suggesting potential benefit of early peanut introduction with minimal risk” (Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora), they are limited in scope. Only 5 of the 146 studies included in the analysis involving a total of about 2,000 children were used to gauge the risk of egg allergy, and just two studies involving about 1,500 children were used to gauge the risk of peanut allergy. The researchers have admitted that more studies are needed to validate the findings and have confirmed that estimates of when children should be introduced to these foodstuffs to increase their tolerance to them could change with more extensive studies.  The early introduction of another common allergen, fish, was also linked to less allergy—possibly due to the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s—but the evidence for this link is not as compelling as in the case of the peanuts and eggs.

The study also examined the early introduction of milk, tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but did not find a link between early introduction of these foods and a reduced risk of allergy to them. While there appears to be a correlation between an early introduction to certain allergens and increased resistance, it does not seem to make a difference for autoimmune diseases on current evidence. Being introduced to gluten at a young age for example does not appear to have any bearing on the risk of developing celiac disease.