Pediatricians in the United States have released a new guideline on how to prevent food allergies and other allergic conditions in children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued the updated guide after reviewing all available evidence regarding the prevention of allergic reactions in kids. This effectively replaces the similar guideline on the matter that was released in 2008.
The organization hopes to liberalize the exposure of children to foods that were long thought to be highly allergenic such as fish, milk, and peanuts.
Introducing Allergenic Food To Young Children
In its report, the AAP said there is not enough evidence to prove that delaying the exposure of children as young as four to six months old to allergenic foods can help keep them from developing food allergies.
On the contrary, strong evidence suggest that early and purposeful introduction of foods such as peanuts to four-month-old babies may even prevent them from having allergic reactions. The AAP said this is particularly true to high-risk infants or those with close relatives who have a history allergic conditions.
Dr. Scott Sicherer, one of the authors of the new report, explained the AAP's stand on the issue.
"There is no reason to delay giving your baby foods that are thought of as allergens like peanut products, eggs or fish," Sicherer said.
"These foods can be added to the diet early, just like foods that are not common allergens, like rice, fruits or vegetables."
Babies develop their tolerance to allergic reactions in their gastrointestinal tract. When the immune system cells in the gut is exposed to allergenic proteins found in different foods, they are able to take up these proteins and become more resistant to them.
Dr. David Stukus, an expert on pediatric allergies at Nationwide Children's Hospital but was not involved in the AAP report, agrees with this assertion, provided that allergenic foods are "introduced early and in an ongoing fashion."
This means parents only have certain period where they could expose their children to these foods to make them become resistant.
Stukus said the introduction of allergenic foods can be done as early as four to six months of age.
Impact Of Breastfeeding On Building Allergic Resistance
The AAP also reviewed its guideline on breastfeeding, whether it can help babies develop resistance to eczema, asthma, wheezing, and other food allergies.
The authors of the report said babies who were exclusively breastfed during the first three to four months after their birth were more resistant to eczema.
Breastfeeding babies for a longer period, even if not exclusive, can help protect them against wheezing in the first two years of their life and asthma in the first five years and beyond.
However, the researchers were not able to find any conclusive evidence to suggest that breastfeeding can indeed prevent food allergies from developing.
There was also no evidence to prove whether avoiding allergenic foods during pregnancy or even during breastfeeding prevented the development of allergic conditions in young children. The same is true for high-risk babies who were fed special hydrolyzed formulas.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a general pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital and longtime supporter of early introduction of food diversity for young children, welcomed the release of the new guidelines, given the ongoing changes in the public's understanding of allergy prevention.
However, she pointed out that eating diverse foods can be beneficial even to adults to keep them protected from allergic conditions.
"It's not just early introduction. It's routine feeding. It's habituating. We need to make a habit of eating very diverse foods," Swanson noted.
"It's a great habit to have your whole life, because 50% of people who develop a food allergy develop it in adulthood."