Having kids eat eggs and peanuts early in life may reduce their risk of developing allergies to these foods later, a new analysis suggests.
Researchers analyzed information from nearly 150 studies involving more than 200,000 children. These studies looked at exactly when certain foods were introduced to children during their first year of life.
The results showed that kids who were fed eggs when they were 4 to 6 months old were 40 percent less likely to develop an egg allergy than were those who were introduced to eggs later.
In addition, kids who were fed food that contained peanuts (such as peanut butter) when they were 4 to 11 months old were 70 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy than were those who were introduced to peanuts later.
The findings suggest that “introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies,” study co-author Robert Boyle, a pediatric allergy researcher at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
However, Boyle cautioned that parents of children who already have a food allergy — or who have another allergic condition such as eczema — should not introduce eggs or peanuts into their children’s diet until they consult with their doctor. He also said that babies and toddlers should not be fed whole nuts because of a choking risk. Instead, they should be given smooth peanut butter.
The researchers estimated that early introduction of eggs could prevent 24 cases of egg allergies per 1,000 people (in a population where the rate of egg allergy is 5.4 percent); and that early introduction of peanuts could prevent 18 cases of peanut allergies per 1,000 people (in a population where the rate of peanut allergy is 2.5 percent).
Doctors once recommended that children who were at high risk for food allergies avoid potentially risky foods such as eggs and peanuts until they were 2 to 3 years old. But as new studies emerged on the possible benefits of introducing these foods early, those recommendations have begun to change.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued interim guidance recommending early introduction of peanuts to kids with a high risk of peanut allergy. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is expected to release guidelines that may formally recommend early peanut introduction for kids with a high risk of developing allergies to peanuts, according to an editorial accompanying the new study, which was published last week in the journal JAMA.
This upcoming recommendation “reflects confidence in the evidence suggesting potential benefit of early peanut introduction with minimal risk, is supported by [the new study findings], and reflects a reasonable starting point to help deter the recent increase in prevalence of peanut allergy,” Matthew Greenhawt, of Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, wrote in the editorial.
Still, the new report has limitations: Of the 146 studies included in the analysis, just five (involving a total of about 2,000 kids) were used to estimate the risk of egg allergy, and just two (involving about 1,500 kids) were used to estimate the risk of peanut allergy. More studies are needed to validate the findings, the researchers said. They noted that estimates of exactly how much early introduction lowers the risk of developing allergies could change.
The study also looked at early introduction of milk, fish (including shellfish), 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.