(Australian Associated Press)
Feeding eggs and peanuts to babies as young as four months can help reduce the chances of them developing allergies to those foods, a major review has found.
Scientists from the Imperial College London reviewed about 150 studies that looked at the effects of giving allergenic foods such as eggs and peanuts to young babies.
They found “moderate” evidence that if eggs were introduced to a baby’s diet between four and six months, the rates of allergy dropped by 24 cases per 1000 infants.
When peanuts were introduced between four and 11 months, rates of peanut allergy fell by 18 cases per 1000 babies.
They also found a high amount of evidence that introducing gluten (wheat) early to infants was not associated with an increased chance of them developing coeliac disease.
But the authors of the study, published on Wednesday, said their findings should not automatically lead to new recommendations on feeding all babies egg and peanut – the foods most likely to cause allergic reactions in infants and toddlers.
“The imprecise effect estimates, issues regarding indirectness, and inconclusive trial sequential analysis findings all need to be considered, together with a careful assessment of the safety and acceptability of early egg and peanut introduction in different populations,” they wrote in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Australia has the highest rate of food allergies in children anywhere in the world, with up to one in 10 infants and two in 10 school-aged children affected.
Current guidelines recommend babies be introduced to solids by six months and not before four months, with eggs and peanuts to be offered before their first birthday.
Professor Katie Allen, a paediatric gastroenterologist and allergist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said parents were often “petrified” to feed their babies foods like eggs and peanuts in case they had an allergic reaction.
Part of the reason is conflicting advice given to parents over the years, with guidelines from the 1990 advising families to avoid feeding infants eggs and peanuts in case it increases the chances of allergy.
But Prof Allen says that advice has now changed and parents shouldn’t avoid introducing eggs and peanuts in the first year of a baby’s life, even if there is a family history of food allergies.
“It won’t increase your risk (of food allergy) and may decrease your risk of food allergy,” she told AAP.
“Introducing early isn’t dangerous but whether that’s a reason for food allergies being on the rise we can’t say yet.”