Giving babies small amounts of peanut and egg to eat at an early age may prevent them developing allergies, a new study suggests.
The research, commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency, goes against current NHS advice that cautions parents against giving infants under six months allergenic foods.
Dr Robert Boyle, lead author of the research from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “This new analysis pools all existing data, and suggests introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies.”
Scientists at Imperial College London analysed the data from 146 studies involving more than 200,000 children.
They found kids who ate peanut-containing products between the ages of four and 11 months had a 70% reduced risk of developing an allergy to the nuts, compared to children who ate peanuts for the first time when they were older.
They also found kids who started eating egg between the ages of four and six months had a 40% reduced risk of developing an allergy to eggs.
However, Dr Boyle cautioned against introducing eggs and peanuts to a baby who already has a food allergy or has another allergic condition such as eczema.
“If your child falls into these categories, talk to your GP before introducing these foods,” he added.
“And whole nuts should be avoided in young children – if you decide to feed peanut to your baby, give it as smooth peanut butter.”
He also stated the analysis didn’t assess safety or how many of the babies suffered allergic reactions from the early introduction.
The UK Food Standards Agency said: “Imperial College London has produced a high quality review. The Government is considering these important findings as part of its review of complementary feeding for infants to ensure its advice reflects the best available evidence.”
Commenting on the study, Allergy UK’s head of clinical services, Amena Warner, who has previously endorsed giving babies small amounts of peanuts to divert allergies, told The Huffington Post UK: “There is now scientific evidence that healthcare providers should recommend introducing peanut-containing products, such as smooth peanut butter (never whole peanuts under five years of age) into the diet of infants early on in life (between four – 11 months of age) in countries where peanut allergy is prevalent.
“Delaying the introduction of peanut may be associated with an increased risk of developing peanut allergy.
“Infants with severe eczema or egg allergy in the first four to six months of life may benefit from evaluation by an allergist or physician to diagnose any food allergy.”
Information tfor parents on food allergies in children
Previously, Allergy UK’s nurse advisor, Holly Shaw, told HuffPost UK: “Childhood food allergy is on the increase and is fast becoming a modern epidemic.
“Egg allergy is a common food allergy in children, and is usually identified in the first year of life, when egg is introduced into an infant’s diet. The most common egg allergens are found in the egg white, although it is possible to be allergic to the egg yolk too.
“The good news is the majority of children with egg allergy are able to tolerate these core food groups by the time they reach school age.
“Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts tend to persist and the likelihood of growing out of them is reduced.
“When a child born to parents who have an existing allergic condition such as asthma, eczema, hay fever or a food allergy there is an increased likelihood that child will go on to develop an allergic condition also. In the allergy world this is termed ‘Atopy’.”
Signs and symptoms of food allergies are classified as mild, moderate and severe, with the most serious being potential- life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Mild to moderate symptoms include:
Hives or itchy skin rash.
Swelling of the eyes, lips and face (angio-oedema).
Abdominal pain or vomiting.
Sudden change in behaviour.
Difficult or noisy breathing.
Wheeze or persistent cough.
Pale or floppy.
For more information on food allergies in babies and children, visit NHS Choices or Allergy UK’s guide for parents.