An original English investigation published on September 20 in the JAMA network of scientific research proved that egg or peanut introduction to babies’ diets was linked with a lower risk of developing egg or peanut allergies.
The study, called “Timing of Allergenic Food Introduction to the Infant Diet and Risk of Allergic or Autoimmune Disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” was led by MD D. Ierodiakonou, along with Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, Andrew Logan, Annable Groome and other scientists from the Section of Pediatrics, Epidemiology, and Respiratory divisions from University of Oxford, University of Nottingham, Imperial College of London, Cardiff University and University of Aberdeen.
This research is relevant since the link between allergenic foods, autoimmune disease and developing food allergies are areas that have not been synthesized or comprehensively studied. The investigation aimed to review and analyze the effects of introducing allergenic foods to babies at an early stage to determine the influence this had on the risk of allergic or autoimmune disease.
Even when the authors of the study do claim that the data used for this investigation is not enough to automatically change recommendations into feeding egg and peanuts to all infants, this research is a valuable asset to the evidence regarding food allergy prevention.
Most recommendations in dietary guidelines for children do not advise early feeding of foods like peanuts or eggs, due to its allergenic charge, but this investigation may be the leader research in changing that.
What is the meta-analysis?
The meta-analysis uses statistical analysis of data using results from multiple previous scientific studies or research, trying to eliminate the error existing in each study considered individually, to understand the effect that stays the same across those various studies.
The advantage of a meta-analysis is that in combining similar studies to reach a conclusion, it can account for enrollment issues that may prevent a study from finding a significant conclusion if one truly exists,” states Dr Greenhawt, a Pediatrics and Allergy specialists from the Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
It is a method that tries to understand the general truth, contrasting results and sources. An investigation conducted under meta-analysis has higher statistical influence since the data analyzed is considerably larger than other research. This particular study used almost 150 previous scientific studies, which involved the allergenic profile of more than 200,000 children.
About the findings: Eggs and peanuts
“A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible immune response to certain foods. In people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful. Eight foods or food groups account for 90% of severe allergic reactions in the United States: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Considering that peanuts and eggs are among the most common food allergies in American children, those foods were the ones analyzed in this original investigation. The first year of life of the infant was the period reviewed by researchers, who identified at what point in life allergenic food (specifically peanut and eggs) was introduced to children and those exposed to eggs between the four and six months old were almost 40 percent less likely to develop egg allergies than those who tried eggs for the first time later in life.
In the case of peanuts, children exposed to food that contained peanuts (peanut butter, for example) being 11 months or less (up to 4 months old) were about 70 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy. This means that early introduction of allergenic food such as eggs or peanuts could prevent from 18 to 24 cases per 1,000 people in a population with a high rate of food allergy.
However, some children are more vulnerable to food allergies from the moment they are born and in that case, doctors recommend to avoid potentially risky foods in their first years.
Waiting until the infant is at least 2 or 3 years old to put them through the first exposure to allergenic food is probably the safest way to protect vulnerable or allergic children.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is expected to release guidelines that may formally recommend early peanut introduction for kids with a high risk of developing allergies to peanuts The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will publish more specific guidelines about dietary recommendations to infants in their first years regarding allergenic food.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also is going to issue recommendations and directives about the early introduction of several risky foods to kids, considering their risk profiles.
What about other allergenic food?
Even when the investigation looked through data about early introduction of milk, fish and shellfish and wheat, considering that those are also quite common allergenic foods, scientists did not found enough evidence to make conclusions about the link between the early exposure to those components and the development of allergy to them.