Early food intervention may reduce the risk of allergies in children

Allowing your baby to taste foods containing peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat from the age of three months can reduce the risk of allergies in children.

Food allergies generally affect 2 to 5 percent of all children and up to 10 percent of infants. Some of the most common allergenic foods are peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat.

A new study shows that tasting these foods from the age of three months may reduce the child’s risk of developing a food allergy.

– The children who were introduced to peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat from the age of three months were less likely to have food allergies at the age of three than the children of parents who followed the national recommendations of the Norwegian Directorate of Public Health, says Karin C. Lodrup Carlsen.

Carlsen is a professor at UiO’s Institute of Clinical Medicine and senior physician/pediatrician at Oslo University Hospital. She is leading the PreventADALL study.

– By introducing babies to these foods early, we can reduce the prevalence of food allergies in children in a simple and safe way, she says.

Small amounts of the food are enough to reduce the risk

According to the new study, the baby only needs to be fed small amounts of foods containing peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat regularly a few times a week to reduce the risk of food allergies.

– We advised parents to dip their finger in soft peanut butter and let their baby taste it, as well as eggs, milk and wheat from the age of three to four months, explains Carlsen. She adds:

For example, parents can let their baby taste soft scrambled eggs and some oatmeal porridge that contains wheat.

The researchers advised parents to introduce their baby to one of the foods on a weekly basis and then continue to give part of the food at least four times a week.

The aim was for the foods to become part of the child’s normal diet.

It is safe and will not affect breastfeeding

According to the professor, it is safe to give infants from the age of three months small amounts of food containing peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat.

– Available documentation shows that it is safe to introduce children from the age of three months to food. International guidelines, last updated in 2020, indicate it’s safe and probably appropriate to start eggs and peanuts between four and six months, she says.

In the study, the researchers also examined whether early food introduction could affect breastfeeding.

– We strongly support breastfeeding and believe that breastfeeding is best for the health of the child. In addition, giving them the different foods from the age of three months did not affect breastfeeding at six months, says the professor.

In addition, both current and past studies show that early food introduction is safe for children at high risk of developing severe allergic reactions, Carlsen said.

The foods stimulate the immune system in a natural way

When young children are introduced to different foods, the gut usually helps the body learn that the foods are harmless. Little by little, the child develops a natural tolerance for different foods.
However, sometimes the immune system thinks that parts of the food are harmful to the body. The immune system response then leads to the development of food allergies.

– We believe that an early introduction of peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat is important because it trains the immune system to recognize common foods as harmless. This helps the immune system to accept these foods, which are perfectly normal foods that children need throughout their lives, the researcher says.

Increased Prevalence of Food Allergies in Children

For decades, parents have been advised to delay introducing food to their babies. However, Professor Carlsen fears that this has not been good advice.

– During this period we have seen an increase in the prevalence of food allergies. The documentation of why one should delay the introduction of food is rather unclear, she says, adding:

– We cannot say for sure whether the advice to delay has contributed to an increased prevalence of allergies, but these two things happened simultaneously.

PreventADALL is the largest and most comprehensive study in the field

In the PreventADALL study, 2,397 children were divided into four approximately equal groups. One group had no intervention, one group had to introduce the infants to peanuts, eggs, milk and wheat from the age of three months, one group used oil baths and face cream from the age of two weeks to nine months, and a group of children had both interventions.

The researchers told the parents in the control group to follow the national guidelines of the Norwegian Directorate of Public Health. These recommend exclusive breastfeeding until the baby is six months old. They also state that babies can be introduced with food from the age of four months if necessary.

The researchers followed the parents and their children until the children were three years old.

Around the age of three, it is quite common for food allergies that started around the age of one to disappear. The researchers therefore wanted to investigate how many children at the age of three were allergic to peanuts, eggs, milk and/or wheat.

– The results were clear. The children introduced to the food when they were three months old had fewer allergies by age three than the children of parents who followed the national guidelines, Carlsen says.

Believes that the Norwegian national guidelines are not based on the latest research

The professor believes that the Norwegian Directorate for Health should revise its national guidelines to reflect new research findings in the field.

– Available documentation points in the same direction, showing that we can prevent the development of food allergies by introducing food early, says Carlsen. She adds:

– It does not work to delay the introduction of food to infants. Now we have to think differently.

Will follow the kids into adulthood

Professor Carlsen and colleagues recently received research funding from Helse Sør-Øst and others to investigate the long-term effects of early food introduction by assessing the children enrolled in the PreventADALL study at early school age.


Reference magazine:

Skjerven, HO, et al. (2022) Early food intervention and skin emollients to prevent food allergy in young children (PreventADALL): a factorial, multicenter, cluster-randomized trial. The Lancet. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00687-0

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