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Published on October 29, 2015

Protect your child from food allergiesProtect your child from food allergies

One of my patients, a young mother, suffered terrible food allergies as a child, including severe asthma, eczema and ear infections. So, when she recently had her first baby, she was anxious that the child was high-risk and would go through a similar experience.

Her concerns were understandable. One of every 13 children under the age of 18 suffers from a food allergy, and the percentage is on the rise.

The impact of these allergies to milk, eggs, soy, wheat, barley, fish and especially peanuts, among other foods, can range from hives, runny noses and itching of the lips, tongue and throat to much more severe reactions including diarrhea, difficulty breathing and even life-threatening Anaphylactic shock that requires immediate medical care.

However, instead of avoiding foods that affected the mother – including soy and grains – we actually introduced them to the baby beginning at four months of age.  The child has not suffered any adverse impacts, and the mother has become much more relaxed about her baby’s diet.

Introducing allergenic foods to infants at four to 11 months is a relatively new strategy. A decade ago, it was much more common to avoid such foods until a child was three to five years of age.

The latest medical research strongly endorses this ‘early’ intervention.

Just this fall, a research team from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal strongly recommending introduction of allergenic foods at four to six months of age.

“Once highly allergenic foods are introduced, regular exposure is important for maintenance of tolerance — children should eat these foods on a regular basis,” said study researchers Drs. Elissa Abrams and Allan Becker.

Their recommendation accelerates findings of an earlier study this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. It found that for high-risk children who began eating peanut snacks by 11 months of age and continued eating them at least three times a week until age 5, their chances of  becoming allergic were reduced by more than 80 percent compared to children who avoided peanuts entirely.

Overall, about 3 percent of kids who ate peanut butter or peanut snacks before their first birthday got an allergy, compared to about 17 percent of kids who didn’t eat them, the New England Journal of Medicine study found.

As a result of this LEAP study (Learning Early About Peanuts), the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, now state that for infants at high risk, there is strong evidence to support the introduction of peanut between 4 and 11 months.

Why are food allergies on the rise?

Historically, especially when we were an agrarian society, children were exposed to a much broader diet from infancy on. They also were breast fed for up to two or three years.