An article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal highlights a new approach to combating food allergies: Introducing allergenic foods like peanut butter and eggs to babies as young as 4 to 6 months old, according to a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
That is a far cry from the American Academy of Pediatrics' original recommendation that children not have milk until age 1, eggs at age 2 and peanuts at the age of 3. Food allergies affect about 5 percent of children under age 5 in the United States, and that number has been on the rise in recent years.
There have always been several schools of thought when it comes to the causes of food allergies; one of the most common being the "hygiene hypothesis." This theory states that babies environments are over-sterilized, thus causing an underdevelopment of the immune system.
According to the theory, children in underdeveloped societies are exposed to more germs, but are thought to have healthier immune systems and less allergies.
In Israel, where peanut allergy incidence is low, it is common practice to give babies foods that contain peanuts before they are 6 months old.
A 2008 study showed children in the U.K. were 10 times more likely to have peanut allergies than children in Israel.
So now, allergists and researchers are taking a closer look at this finding and the idea of early introduction of highly allergenic-type foods.
Although information like this is evolving based upon some of the current research, others have promulgated alternate theories about such relationships as vitamin D and a link to food allergies. As reported in a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, blood samples from 5,000 babies were evaluated and those with low vitamin D levels were three times more likely to have a food allergy.
While we in the allergy community always welcome studies like these, it is important to utilize a team approach.
Parents should always discuss the early introduction of these foods (particularly with a strong family history of allergies) with their pediatricians and/or a pediatric allergist.
For more information on this evolving topic, or to find a certified allergist in your area, go to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's website.
Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center, and faculty at Cornell University Medical College. Follow him on Twitter.