Infants consuming peanut, milk, wheat, and egg from three months old had a lower risk of developing a food allergy at three years old.
Researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the University of Oslo in Norway have discovered that giving infants foods that commonly cause allergies can reduce the risk of food allergies in children aged three years compared to a control group.
Food allergies in children cause the body’s immune system to react unusually to specific foods. They can result in an allergic reaction ranging from mild to serious. Previous studies have illuminated that introducing allergenic foods early, like peanuts and wheat, reduces food allergies in children later in life. Overall evidence of this finding is lacking, and the research team aimed to clarify this further.
The study was published in The Lancet.
Is it possible to reduce the risk of food allergies in children?
A collaborative research team from Karolinska Institutet, the University of Oslo, Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm (Sweden), Oslo University Hospital and Östfold Hospital Trust (Norway) used the PreventADALL study for their analysis.
The team examined the risk of food allergies in children aged three years and whether infants given portions of allergenic foods, including peanut, milk and egg, can reduce allergy prevalence.
The team’s findings strengthen previous beliefs that early food introduction reduces the risk of food allergies in children. They found that children consuming allergenic foods had a 1.1% risk of developing an allergic reaction by age three, compared to a 2.6% in children who did not consume allergenic foods from three months old. This means that 63 children would need to be exposed to allergenic foods to prevent allergies in one child.
Introducing allergenic foods in regular small portions
The team analysed 2,397 children from Norway and Sweden, allocated to one of four treatment groups. The researchers also examined whether regular emollients from two weeks of age and/or early food introduction on atopic eczema can reduce the risk of food allergies in children.
One group received early food introduction of regular small portions of peanut butter, milk, wheat or cooked egg from three months old, a second group received the same plus skin emollients, a third group was given just skin emollients and the fourth group received no specific treatment.
The researchers tasked the parents to introduce peanut, then cows’ milk, followed by wheat porridge and egg and allow the children to taste the foods at least four times a week.
“We’re talking small amounts – a baby sucking a finger coated with peanut butter, say, or having a taste from a teaspoon,” explained Dr Björn Nordlund, research group leader at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Karolinska Institutet.
Over 80% of the children attended the follow-up at three years old. Food allergies were diagnosed in 44 children, with 32 having a peanut allergy.
Food allergies were diagnosed in 14 (2.3%) of 596 infants in the non-intervention group, 17 (3.0%) of 574 infants in the skin intervention group, six (0.9%) of 641 infants in the food intervention group, and seven (1.2%) of 583 infants in the combined intervention group. Due to a larger number of peanut allergies compared to the other tested foods, the study can not ascertain the effect of allergy risk with the other foods included.