The latest breakthrough in food allergies: Try it early, try it often?

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Parents have been told for years that it’s best to wait before introducing peanuts, milk, and eggs — three of the top allergens — but research is telling us that letting high-risk kids try these foods sooner might reduce their odds of developing an allergy.

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More than 600 children were included in the study, and all of them had eczema and/or an egg allergy. The first test involved a skin-prick to test their sensitivity to peanuts — to see if the area developed a hive — and all of the study participants were between four and 11 months old.

For the next five years, half of the children were given two grams of peanuts three times a week. The other half of the children avoided peanuts completely for the full five years.

When the five- and six-year-olds were given a large dose of peanut butter to check for an allergy, a clinical immunologist at Sick Kids Hospital called the results “amazing” …

  • Kids who  had a negative skin test to the peanuts as babies, and avoided peanuts entirely: A whopping 13.7 per cent of them developed a peanut allergy.
  • Kids who had a negative skin test to the peanuts as babies, and continued to eat peanuts three times a week: Only 1.9 per cent of them developed a peanut allergy.
  • Kids who  had a positive skin test to the peanuts as babies, and avoided peanuts entirely: A staggering 35.3 per cent of them developed a peanut allergy.
  • Kids who  had a positive skin test to the peanuts as babies, and continued to eat peanuts three times a week: Only 10.6 per cent of them developed a peanut allergy.

Researchers said the results not only provide that we shouldn’t delay introducing peanuts, milk, and eggs, but that we should “probably be intentionally giving the food to high-risk kids early on.”

A second study involved peanut-allergic kids aged five to 10 years old, and had them slowly work their way up to eating 500 milligrams (about two peanuts) each day. The idea is to increase their tolerance so they aren’t in serious danger if they are accidentally exposed. But the desensitization isn’t a cure for their allergy, and the children were likely to become re-sensitized if they stopped the daily peanut dose.

A U.S. study tested the effectiveness of a “peanut patch” that provides a small dose of peanut protein through the skin. More than half of the participants (mostly kids until 12) were able to tolerate 10 times the amount of peanut protein they could tolerate at the beginning of the study. Another study is planned to explore the merits of the patch, as many researchers believe it’s more effective to simply use peanuts.

In a similar study involved milk allergies, children were taken from zero to 200 millilitres of milk, and then challenged to 300 millilitres, and then allowed to have as much dairy as they wanted — maintaining a minimum intake of 200 millilitres a week. The study’s lead investigator described the results as “phenomenal,” as it allowed many children to happily eat in restaurants — ordering pizza and even ice-cream cake — without worrying about a reaction.

H/T Today’s Parent

Heather Laura Clarke, a contributing writer at Scratch or Sniff, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with her high-school sweetheart husband, seven-year-old son, and five-year-old daughter. She writes for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S., and blogs about her family life at Heather's Handmade Life. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.

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