Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Oslo in Norway have uncovered a way to reduce the risk of food allergies in children as young as three. To do this, babies were given a taste of peanuts, milk, wheat and eggs. The results of scientific work are published in The Lancet.
The study included 2394 children who were randomly assigned to four groups based on medical exposure. One group received small portions of peanut butter, milk, wheat, or boiled eggs from the age of three months; the second received the same along with skin moisturizers; the third – only products for the skin, and the fourth served as a control. All parents were urged to follow national food recommendations.
First, the babies were given peanuts, a week later cow’s milk, and then wheat porridge and eggs. The children ate small portions of foods at least four days a week along with their regular meals, and after they were six months old, small amounts of all four foods were incorporated into their regular diet. The article notes that during the observation of serious adverse events were noted.
More than 80 percent of infants were observed until the age of three, after which they were tested for an allergy to one of the products. Allergies were diagnosed in 44 infants: 32 were allergic to peanuts, 12 were allergic to eggs, and four were allergic to milk. The disease was diagnosed in 14 (2.3 percent) of 596 children in the control group, in 17 (three percent) of 574 children in the skin products group, in six (0.9 percent) of 641 children in the allergen group , and seven (1.2 percent) of 583 infants in the combined intervention group.
Children who received potential allergens from an early age had an average 1.1 percent risk of developing an allergic reaction to one of the foods by age three, compared with 2.6 percent for children who received nothing or only moisturizers. This means that 63 children need to be exposed early to allergens to prevent at least one food allergy. The largest risk reduction was observed for peanuts, which was 0.7 percent in the intervention group compared to 2 percent in the control. For the rest of the foods, the incidence of allergies was low, so the researchers were unable to establish an effect on risk with other allergens.
According to the authors of the study, the results support the hypothesis that early and regular introduction of allergenic foods, rather than later introduction or avoidance of them, may reduce the risk of food allergies.