Researchers have found that introducing peanuts and eggs to high-risk babies as early as three months could prevent them from developing allergies to those foods in later life.
According to UK current guidelines, babies should be fed nothing but breastmilk until six months – and only then should solid foods be introduced.
Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the study found that despite low adherence, early introduction to allergenic foods (those that may cause an allergic reaction), including egg and peanut, was found to be effective in preventing the development of food allergies in specific groups of infants.
“These results have significant implications and are informative when it comes to infant feeding recommendations concerning allergies and the development of new guidelines,” said study researcher Gideon Lack, Professor at King’s College London.
“If an early introduction to certain allergenic foods became a part of these recommendations, we also have data that tells us what populations may need extra support when it comes to implementing the recommendations,” Lack added.
The research is a continuation from The Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study where over 1300 three-month-old infants were recruited in England and Wales and placed into one of two groups.
One group was introduced to six allergenic foods (including peanut and egg) from three months of age alongside breastfeeding and was called the Early Introduction Group (EIG).
The other group was exclusively breastfed for six months and was termed the Standard Introduction Group (SIG).
The results showed that 34.2 percent of children in the SIG developed food allergy in comparison to 19.2 percent, of children in the EIG.
Among babies sensitized to peanuts at enrolment, 33.3 percent of those in the SIG went on to develop a peanut allergy compared with 14.3 percent of the infants in the EIG.
And among those sensitized to egg at the beginning of the study, 48.7 percent of the infants in the SIG developed an egg allergy compared with 20 percent in the EIG.
The early introduction of allergenic foods to infants who were not at a high risk of developing food allergies was not associated with an increased risk of developing a food allergy, the study said.
There were no significant differences in food allergy rates between the two groups of infants with no sensitization to any food at the time of enrollment.
The results were still evident despite only 42 percent of the EIG group achieving the per-protocol adherence of sustained, high dose consumption of five or more early introduction foods.
Low adherence to the protocol, appeared to be most prominent among populations of increased maternal age, non-white ethnicity and lower maternal quality of life.
“We have shown that the early introduction of foods that causes allergies can significantly reduce the chances of high-risk infants developing peanut and egg allergy,” said study researcher Michael Perkin, from the University of London.
“Our research adds to the body of evidence that early introduction of allergenic foods may play a significant role in curbing the allergy epidemic,” Perkin added.