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Fighting Food Allergies with Early Solids?

The discussions on the latest recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide some solids to infants between 4 and 6 months seems to have stirred up quite a debate. Prior to 2008, the Academy recommended that parents hold off on cow’s milk until after their first birthday, no eggs until the age of two, and no peanuts until three. The group reversed this stance after studies showed there was no good evidence to support this advice reduced food allergy risks in children.

Currently, pediatricians recommend infants be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life because it is the best form of nutrition, although it is unclear if there is a beneficial link between food allergy risks and breast milk.

The study that steers the new recommendation comes from survey study findings based on 594 children whose mothers were interviewed when the children were one, six, and 12 months old. The two to three year old children were tested through blood samples for antibodies against peanut, egg and milk — three common triggers of childhood food allergies.

Overall, 11 percent of the children were sensitized to peanut. Among children whose parents had allergies or asthma, the risk of peanut sensitization was lower if they’d been started on solid food or cow’s milk before the age of four months.

Of those children, just under 6 percent had peanut sensitivity, versus 16 percent of those who’d had the foods introduced later in infancy. That corresponds to a five-fold difference in risk, after taking into account other things that might set the toddlers up for allergies.

This seems to suggest that earlier exposure to a wider range of foods could start up the required immune-system cells to mature in infants that possess a genetic susceptibility to allergies making them less likely to develop food allergies later.

This is a small sample size, and larger group studies are required to substantiate these finding. Also, a study should be conducted to determine the link between cow’s milk, early solids and peanut sensitization. Why did this study find a lower risk of peanut sensitization and not egg or milk sensitization?

For more on this discussion, please contact your healthcare provider to determine what is best for your family. Do not change any treatment plans without first consulting with your doctor.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 2011.