Feeding babies egg and peanut may prevent food allergy

21 September 2016
Baby eating

Feeding babies egg and peanut may reduce their risk of developing an allergy to the foods, according to a new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

Researchers from Imperial College London have conducted the largest analysis of evidence on the effect of feeding allergenic foods to babies, reviewing more than 140 studies involving around 200,000 children.

The study found that introducing babies to peanuts and eggs early lowered their risk of developing allergies.  Specifically:

•    Children who started eating egg between the ages of four and six months had a 40 per cent reduced risk of egg allergy compared to children who tried egg later in life.

•    Children who ate peanut between the ages of four and eleven months had a 70 per cent reduced peanut allergy risk compared to children who ate the food at a later stage.

The team also analysed milk, fish (including shellfish), tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but didn't find enough evidence to show that introducing these foods at a young age reduces allergy risk.

The study’s lead author, Dr Robert Boyle, says this latest analysis is significant because it pools all existing data.

“It suggests introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies.

"Until now we have not been advising parents to give these foods to young babies, and have even advised parents to delay giving allergenic foods such as egg, peanut, fish and wheat to their infant."

Allergies to foods, such as nuts, egg, milk or wheat, are fairly common and are thought to be on the rise. They are caused by the immune system malfunctioning and over-reacting to these foods resulting in symptoms such as rashes, swelling, vomiting and wheezing.

The researchers cautioned that their analysis didn't assess safety, or how many of the babies suffered allergic reactions from the early introduction.

Dr Boyle says introducing egg and peanut to a baby who already has a food allergy, or has another allergic condition such as eczema may not be advisable . "If your child falls into these categories, talk to your GP before introducing these foods."

He also noted that whole nuts should not be given to babies or toddlers due to the choking hazard. "Whole nuts should be avoided in young children - if you decide to feed peanut to your baby, give it as smooth peanut butter."

The study was funded by the UK Food Standards Agency who commission research to understand the causes and mechanisms of food allergy and intolerance.

Read more about the study here.