Timing may be everything when it comes to preventing food allergies in children. According to a review and meta-analysis published in JAMA, feeding infants eggs and peanuts may reduce their risk of later developing allergies to these foods. Researchers discovered evidence of this after reviewing data from 146 intervention and observational studies. The studies investigated the effects of introducing allergenic foods, including eggs, peanuts, and gluten, during the first year of life on the risk of later developing food allergies, celiac disease, and other allergic sensitizations or autoimmune diseases. Although the data was difficult to analyze due to differences in study methods, the researchers did reach some conclusions with varying degrees of certainty:
Five trials, including 1,915 participants, provided evidence of moderate certainty that introducing eggs into infants’ diets at four to six months was associated with a reduced risk of egg allergy.
Two trials, including 1,550 participants, provided evidence of moderate certainty that introducing peanuts into infants’ diets at four to eleven months was associated with a reduced risk of peanut allergy.
There was evidence of high certainty that introducing gluten into infants’ diets at any age was not associated with an increase or decrease in the risk of celiac disease.
These findings add to a growing body of research showing that introducing certain foods during early childhood and even eating them during pregnancy may reduce the risk of allergies. Based on the changing understanding of how the developing immune system responds to allergen exposures, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology now recommends the introduction of highly allergic foods, including eggs and peanuts, between four and six months of age for most children; however, it’s important to consult with your child’s pediatrician before introducing highly allergic foods if your child has already shown signs of food allergies or any persistent allergic condition, or if your child has siblings with severe food allergies.