Feeding Kids Peanuts & Eggs Early May Lower Allergy Risk

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Having kids eat eggs and peanuts early in life may reduce their risk of developing allergies to these foods later, a new analysis suggests.

Researchers analyzed information from nearly 150 previous studies involving more than 200,000 children. These studies looked at exactly when certain foods were introduced to children during their first year of life.

The results showed that kids who were fed eggs when they were ages 4 to 6 months old were 40 percent less likely to develop an egg allergy, compared with those who were introduced to eggs later, the study found.

In addition, kids who were fed food that contained peanuts (such as peanut butter) when they were 4 to 11 months old were 70 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy, compared with those who were introduced to peanuts later.

The findings suggest that "introducing egg and peanut at an early age may prevent the development of egg and peanut allergy, the two most common childhood food allergies," study co-author Dr. Robert Boyle, a pediatric allergy researcher at Imperial College London, said in a statement.

However, children who already have a food allergy, or those who have another allergic condition such as eczema, should not automatically be fed eggs or peanuts early in life, Boyle said. Parents of these children should speak with the doctor before introducing these potentially allergenic foods, he said. Boyle also noted that babies and toddlers should not be fed whole nuts, because there is a risk of choking. Instead, they should be given smooth peanut butter, Boyle said.

The researchers also estimated that early introduction of eggs could prevent 24 cases of egg allergies per 1,000 people (in a population where the rate of egg allergy is 5.4 percent); and early introduction of peanuts could prevent 18 cases of peanut allergies per 1,000 people (in a population where the rate of peanut allergy is 2.5 percent), according to the new findings published today (Sept. 20) in the journal JAMA. [8 Strange Signs You're Having an Allergic Reaction]

Doctors once recommended that children who were at high risk for food allergies avoid potentially risky foods such as eggs and peanuts until they were 2 to 3 years old. But as new studies emerged on the possible benefits of introducing these foods early, recommendations were revised to say that parents should not delay the introduction of these foods.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued temporary (interim) guidance recommending early introduction of peanuts to kids with a high risk of peanut allergy. And soon, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is expected to release guidelines that may formally recommend early peanut introduction for kids with a high risk of developing allergies to peanuts, according to an editorial accompanying the new study, also published today in JAMA.

This upcoming recommendation "reflects confidence in the evidence suggesting potential benefit of early peanut introduction with minimal risk, is supported by [the new study findings], and reflects a reasonable starting point to help deter the recent increase in prevalence of peanut allergy," Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, of Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, wrote in the editorial.

Still, the new study has limitations: Of the 146 studies included in the analysis, just five studies (involving a total of about 2,000 kids) were used to estimate the risk of egg allergy, and just two studies (involving about 1,500 kids) were used to estimate the risk of peanut allergy. More studies are still needed to validate the findings, the researchers said. They noted that estimates of exactly how much early introduction lowers the risk of developing egg and peanut allergies could change with future studies.

The study also looked at early introduction of milk, fish (including shellfish), tree nuts (such as almonds) and wheat, but did not find a link between early introduction of these foods and a reduced risk of allergy to them.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.