A meta-analysis carried out by researchers from Imperial College London has revealed that introducing eggs and peanuts to babies at a young age may reduce their risks of developing allergies to the food items later on.
Published in a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results of the meta-analysis, touted to be the largest involving evidence on how babies are affected by being fed allergenic food, showed that babies who start eating eggs at 4 to 6 months of age are 40 percent less likely to develop egg allergies compared to children who ate eggs only when they were older. While babies who had their first taste of peanuts between 4 and 11 months had a 70-percent reduced risk to peanut allergies.
According to Dr. Robert Boyle, the study's lead author, egg and peanut allergies are the two most common food allergies in children.
"Until now, we have not been advising to give these foods to young babies, and have even advised parents to delay giving allergenic foods such as eggs, peanut, fish and wheat to their infant," he said.
Dr. Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, a study co-author, also added that cases involving food allergies in children are on the rise. In fact, childhood food allergies may have become more common within the past 30 years.
The researchers are not certain why the number of food allergy cases in children are rising, but it may have to do with environmental factors coming into play or doctors becoming better at recognizing food allergies.
Originally, the study undertook 16,289 research papers tackling allergies and other problems with the immune systems. The researchers were able to narrow down their meta-analysis to 146 studies, which involved data from more than 200,000 children.
They also calculated for absolute reduction in risk and found that where 5.4 percent of a population has egg allergies, introducing eggs to babies 4 to 6 months old would lead to a drop of 24 egg allergy cases for every 1,000 people. And where 2.5 percent of a population are diagnosed with peanut allergies? Introducing 4- to 11-month-old babies to peanuts will prevent 18 peanut allergy cases in every 1,000 people.
Additionally, the researchers found that introducing babies early to allergenic food like eggs, peanuts, wheat, milk, or fish does not affect their risks for autoimmune diseases, nor the introduction of gluten is connected to developing celiac disease.
What the researchers didn't assess for, however, is safety and the kind of allergic reactions that the babies experienced when they were fed eggs and peanuts early.
Boyle also warns against feeding eggs and peanuts to babies who already have food allergies or other allergic conditions like eczema. Additionally, whole nuts are to be avoided as they can be choking hazards for babies.
In another study, researchers have discovered that children given antibiotics within their first two years are likelier to develop eczema and hay fever when they are older.
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