Allergy Update: Canadian researchers’ review indicates food allergies in infants may be prevented with early introduction

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has released a research review that supports introducing babies to peanut products (peanut protein), and other foods that may cause an allergic reaction at four to six months of age.

The review, conducted by Dr. Elissa Abrams and Dr. Allan Becker of the University of Manitoba, is based on learnings from previous studies that point to early introduction, as well as a recent cross-sectional survey of randomly selected households in all 10 Canadian provinces, that reported at least one food allergy. Although any food allergy could be the cause, the most allergic reactions are from cow’s milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, finned fish, shell-fish and sesame. The prevalence of some food allergies has increased with a reported 18% increase in overall prevalence between 1997 and 2007 in the U.S.

It’s for this reason that doctors are shifting their focus from allergy treatments to prevention. Parents are now advised to introduce babies to peanut protein and other common food allergens at an early age. It is important to note two things: the new guidelines don’t recommend feeding whole peanuts to infants; and babies with parents or siblings who have allergies, especially to peanut, are at higher risk of having an allergy.

The researchers note that recommendations to parents include the introduction of allergenic foods at home. Once they’re well-tolerated, it’s important to maintain tolerance by giving children these foods on a regular basis.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology also recommends:

  • • Introduce a new food every three to five days in a way that minimizes risk of choking.
  • • Start with grains, yellow and orange vegetables and fruit.
  • • Start with a small amount of potentially allergenic foods.
  • • Introduce highly allergenic foods at home, not at daycare.

This new research comes on the heels of a recent randomized controlled trial, called Learning Early About Peanut (LEAP), that found introducing peanuts early to high-risk children cut the risk of food allergy. Children at high risk of peanut allergy may benefit from an allergist’s evaluation before trying the food.

Some unanswered questions include what is the frequency and amount of food that needs to be eaten to keep up tolerance, and how long the protection lasts after early introduction.

For more information, a news report from CBC discusses the review. The full review with supporting evidence can also be accessed via the Canadian Medical Journal Association website for a small fee.