Feeding babies egg and peanut may prevent food allergy

September 20, 2016, Imperial College London
Credit: Anna Langova/public domain

Feeding babies egg and peanut may reduce their risk of developing an allergy to the foods, finds a new study.

In the research, which is the largest analysis of evidence on the effect of feeding to babies, scientists from Imperial College London analysed data from 146 studies. In total the studies involved more than 200,000 children.

The results suggest feeding children egg between the ages of four and six months may reduce their risk of developing .

The study, which was commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency, also found feeding children peanut, between the ages of four and eleven months, may reduce risk of developing peanut allergy.

In addition, the team analysed milk, fish (including shellfish), tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but didn't find enough evidence to show introducing these foods at a young age reduces allergy risk.

The research is published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although previous studies have found feeding children peanut and egg may reduce allergy risk, other studies have found no effect.

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.

"Until now we have not been advising parents to give these foods to young babies, and have even advised parents to delay giving allergenic foods such as egg, peanut, fish and wheat to their infant."

Allergies to foods, such as nuts, egg, milk or wheat, affect around one in 20 children in the UK. They are caused by the immune system malfunctioning and over-reacting to these harmless foods. This triggers symptoms such as rashes, swelling, vomiting and wheezing.

"The number of children diagnosed with food allergies is thought to be on the rise", added Dr Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, a co-author on the study from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial. "There are indications that food allergies in children have become much more common over the last 30 years.

The number of patients coming into our clinics has increased year-on-year, and allergy clinics across the country have seen the same pattern."

She added that the reasons behind this rise are still unclear - doctors may be better at recognising food allergy, or there may be environmental factors involved.

In the new study, called a meta-analysis, the team initially analysed 16,289 research papers on allergies and other immune system problems. Out of these, 146 were used for data analysis of when to feed babies allergenic foods such as egg, peanut, wheat and fish.

The results showed that children who started eating egg between the ages of four and six months had a 40 per cent reduced risk of egg allergy compared to children who tried egg later in life.

Children who ate peanut between the ages of four and eleven months had a 70 per cent reduced peanut allergy risk compared to children who ate the food at a later stage. However, the authors cautioned that these percentages are estimates based on a small number of studies.

Five studies (involving 1915 children) were used to estimate reduced risk of egg allergy, and two studies (involving 1550 children) were used to estimate reduced risk of peanut allergy. Therefore these figures may change when more studies are completed.

The team also calculated absolute risk reduction. They found that in a population where 5.4 per cent of people have egg allergy (the UK prevalence rate from one recent study), introducing egg between four and six months of age could prevent 24 cases of egg allergy per 1,000 people.

For peanut, in a population where 2.5 per cent of people have , introducing the food between four and eleven months could prevent 18 cases per 1,000 people.

The authors cautioned that the analysis didn't assess safety, or how many of the babies suffered allergic reactions from the early introduction.

Dr Boyle cautioned against introducing egg and peanut to a baby who already has a , or has another allergic condition such as eczema. "If your child falls into these categories, talk to your GP before introducing these foods." He also noted that whole nuts should not be given to babies or toddlers due to the choking hazard. "Whole nuts should be avoided in young children - if you decide to feed peanut to your baby, give it as smooth peanut butter."

The team also analysed whether introducing peanut, egg, milk, fish or wheat early into a baby's diet affected their risk of autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease. The team found no effect on risk.

Commenting on the findings, 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.

Families should continue to follow the Government's current long-standing advice to exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months of age because of the health benefits to mothers and babies."

Explore further: Food allergies linked to raised risk of asthma, hay fever

More information: JAMA. 2016;316(11):1181-1192. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2016.12623

Related Stories

Food allergies linked to raised risk of asthma, hay fever

September 14, 2016
(HealthDay)—Children with food allergies are at increased risk for asthma and hay fever, and the risk rises with the number of food allergies, new research shows.

New review: What to do to prevent food allergies in infants

October 19, 2015
With food allergies in children on the rise, parents often ask the question, How do I prevent food allergies in my baby? A new review published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal), based on the latest evidence, ...

Early introduction of allergenic foods reduces risk of food sensitization

May 18, 2016
Children who had a diet that included cow's milk products, egg and peanut before age one were less likely to develop sensitization to the corresponding foods, according to new research presented at the ATS 2016 International ...

Peanut in household dust linked to peanut allergy in children with eczema during infancy

November 18, 2014
A new study led by researchers at King's College London in collaboration with the US Consortium of Food Allergy Research and the University of Dundee has found a strong link between environmental exposure to peanut protein ...

Children with food allergies predisposed to asthma, rhinitis

August 25, 2016
Children with a history of food allergy have a high risk of developing asthma and allergic rhinitis during childhood as well. The risk increases with the number of food allergies a child might have, say researchers from The ...

Anaphylaxis risk up for siblings of peanut allergic children

June 14, 2016
(HealthDay)—The risk of anaphylaxis is increased upon peanut introduction in siblings of children with peanut allergy, according to a study published online June 13 in Allergy.

Recommended for you

New genetic study could lead to better treatment of severe asthma

December 12, 2018
The largest-ever genetic study of people with moderate-to-severe asthma has revealed new insights into the underlying causes of the disease which could help improve its diagnosis and treatment.

Researchers discover unique immune cell likely drives chronic inflammation

December 11, 2018
For the first time, researchers have identified that an immune cell subset called gamma delta T cells that may be causing and/or perpetuating the systemic inflammation found in normal aging in the general geriatric population ...

Macrophage cells key to helping heart repair—and potentially regenerate, new study finds

December 11, 2018
Scientists at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre have identified the type of cell key to helping the heart repair and potentially regenerate following a heart attack.

Study identifies a key cellular mechanism that triggers pneumonia in humans

December 11, 2018
The relationship between influenza and pneumonia has long been observed by health workers. Its genetic and cellular mechanisms have now been investigated in depth by scientists in a study involving volunteers and conducted ...

Immune cells sacrifice themselves to protect us from invading bacteria

December 11, 2018
Immune systems are working overtime as winter approaches. Stomach flu can turn the strongest individual into a bedridden convalescent. Viruses are spreading in kindergartens. This year's flu is approaching in full swing. ...

New light-based technology reveals how cells communicate in human disease

December 11, 2018
Scientists at the University of York have developed a new technique that uses light to understand how cells communicate in human disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.