Should we be telling moms to avoid common allergy-causing foods for the first few years of life?
Conventional wisdom among pediatricians was to tell moms to hold off on feeding kids certain foods until the children were “old enough.” This came from allergy researchers who thought avoiding these foods would make the child less likely to develop an allergy to peanut, for instance. Unfortunately, it looks like this advice to parents is probably folklore. That is, there was no real hard science behind this advice. It turns out that the opposite advice is might be better. Researchers are starting to feel that children should be exposed to allergenic foods (peanut, shrimp, tree nuts, for example) early and often.
Studies looking at the effectiveness of government-based guidelines seeking to decrease peanut allergy by later introduction of peanuts found them at the very least to be ineffective, and possibly detrimental. Early feeding of allergenic foods may lead to tolerance. Tolerance is the response where the immune system learns to ignore a substance – or to not react in an allergic way.
I must clarify one important point. If a person is already allergic to a food, the only current recommended treatment is strict avoidance and that the patient should carry a self-injectable epinephrine device in case of accidental ingestion. What I am talking about here is trying to prevent children from becoming allergic to a food in the first place.
Food allergy continues to be a problem which seems to be on the increase despite the measures we take. We as doctors and parents must take the recommendations of the past with “a grain of salt.”