Parents worried about childhood food allergies, and who delay the introduction of troublesome foods, could be unwittingly raising their child’s risk.
A Melbourne-based study has found infants who were not introduced to eggs until after their first birthday were up to five times more likely to go on to develop an egg allergy.
This was compared to those who ate their first eggs from age four to six months and, University of Melbourne PhD scholar Jennifer Koplin said, it added more weight to the recent shift in official advice.
“Until recently, Australian and international guidelines recommended that infants with a family history of allergy delay introducing allergenic foods such as egg, peanut and nuts until up to two to three years of age,” Ms Koplin said on Monday.
“Our study suggests that babies who ingest these foods at an earlier age may be less likely to develop food allergies as they grow older.
“It seems that early introduction of egg may protect against egg allergy, while delaying its introduction may put the child at increased risk of developing an allergy.”
The study, published on Monday by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, took in 2,500 infants and the timing of their introduction to eggs was checked against those who later developed the allergy.
An early introduction to cooked egg – boiled or scrambled eggs for example – was found to confer more of a protective effect than first consuming eggs in baked form – in cakes or biscuits.
Of babies aged four to six months who were introduced to cooked egg, just 5.6 per cent developed an egg allergy compared with 27.6 per cent of those introduced to cooked egg after 12 months.
A family history of egg allergy did not appear be a factor in those children who went on to develop it, while duration of breastfeeding and introduction to first solids were also ruled out.
Associate Professor Katie Allen, from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, said more work was needed to check whether the same was true for other common allergenic foods such as nuts.
“Confirmation that early introduction is protective for other allergenic foods may help better inform parents in the future, and could have the potential to reverse the epidemic of childhood food allergy,” Dr Allen said.
The research forms part of a wider study led by Professor Allen at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute to track food allergy prevalence and causes among Victorian infants.
Danny Rose, Medical Writer
October 4, 2010