An allergy can be debilitating for a child as they make their way through life, trying to avoid those foods that could set off a reaction, but there is renewed hope for parents this week.
Experts are ‘excited’ by a new piece of research which suggests that eating small amounts of allergy-inducing foods early in life could prevent a reaction in years to come.
The Eat (Enquiring About Tolerance) study, carried out for the Food Standards Agency, found that babies introduced to foods such as peanut, wheat and egg-white at three months are less likely to develop an allergy compared to those introduced to the foods at six months.
There was an important limiting factor to the study, however – a recommended quantity of the foods in question to be consumed. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that weekly consumption amounting to just one-and-a-half teaspoons of peanut butter and one small boiled egg met the maximum quota.
For the study, the researchers analysed data from just over 1,300 babies in the UK aged three months, then divided them into two groups.
In the first group, the mothers breastfed their little ones for the first six months and then introduced them to allergenic foods if they wished. In the second group, the mothers breastfed and introduced six specific allergenic foods - cooked eggs, milk, wheat, peanuts, fish and sesame – from three months. They then tested the children over the next three years, checking for allergies.
The results were remarkable; the team found that those who introduced allergen-causing foods at the earlier stage (three months) had a 67% lower risk of developing a food allergy.
The most interesting results centred on peanut allergies, with none of the kids in the early introduction group developing a peanut allergy later on.
Commenting on the significance of the study, author Dr Michael Perkin said: “This is about what’s the best way of introducing allergenic foods to all infants, not just a very selected subgroup. And that is absolutely unique. No one has done anything remotely like this.”
Addressing how this study built on previous ones, he added: “The improvements in this study are that it is on a much wider spectrum of the general population. And the exciting finding is that they did find that early introduction of allergenic foods works in that it seems to reduce the prevalence of food allergies, tested at three years.”