Early introduction to allergens has been proven to prevent food allergies among children, according to recent research.
The study, published on October 19 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, was conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg.
According to them, babies as young as 4 to 6 months should be exposed to potential allergens, such as cow’s milk, peanuts, sesame, tree nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish and soy.
Parents should carry out this process at a slow pace, while keeping a close eye on their infants to identify any possible negative reactions they might have.
As the America Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology specifies, single-ingredient new foods should be added every 3 to 5 days, keeping in mind to minimize choking risk.
Parents could start by feeding their children cereal grains (rice or oat), green and orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes etc.) and fruit (apples, bananas, pears).
Products with high allergenic potential should be introduced at home, not at day care, and small doses should initially be given, after less dangerous foods prove to have been tolerated.
Moreover, as soon as babies are introduced to these foods, they should continue to consume them regularly, in order to halt the development of life-threatening allergies.
These recommendations seem to contradict prior guidelines imposed by immunologists, who urged parents to avoid giving their children known allergens in the first 12 to 36 months of life, especially when babies were more susceptible to suffering from allergies.
“At the time, we thought if you allowed the infants’ immune system and gut to mature it would decrease the chance that they would become allergic”, explained Elissa Abrams, study co-author and senior pediatric allergy and clinical immunology fellow at the University of Manitoba.
However, new studies have shown that instead of diminishing the number of food allergies, the frequency of these disorders has been escalating after establishing these preventive measures.
For example, in the United Kingdom the fact that infants were no longer exposed to peanuts has led to peanut allergies experiencing a threefold increase in recent years. On the other hand, the LEAP study has revealed that introducing peanuts early in the baby’s diet reduces allergy risk by 80%.
Researchers also seem to have shed new light in the mechanisms that cause the onset of food allergies. For example, such hypersensitivity can appear when children come into contact with previously unfamiliar foods through broken skin (for instance, when they suffer from eczema).
In light of these findings, organizations such as the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology advise parents to introduce allergens like peanuts even to high-risk infants, at the age of 4 to 11 months.
Health officials do however specify that families with a well-documented history of allergies should consult with an allergist before taking this step, to ensure that the baby doesn’t actually suffer any harm.
Moreover, experts insist that expectant or breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t follow any restrictions when it comes to consuming foods that are known as common allergens, unless they themselves already have certain allergies.
As researchers explain, unjustified avoidance of certain foods during pregnancy or afterwards can actually result in having a premature or smaller-sized baby.
Therefore, in order to put a stop to what has recently become a food allergy epidemic, it is essential to slowly but steadily accustom children to a wide variety of meals, study authors conclude.
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