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Giving allergenic foods to infants from 3 months may prevent allergies

Posted on 04/03/2016
baby eating

A new study for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that introducing allergenic foods to the infant diet from three months of age may be effective in food allergy prevention if the recommended quantity of allergenic food was consumed.

The research, led by King's College London, compared those infants that were breastfed and consumed allergenic foods from three months with those solely breastfed and given foods at six months.

Overall, food allergy was lower in the group introduced to allergenic foods early but the difference was not statistically significant. Early introduction of all the foods was not easy but it was safe. Among the infants who did manage to consume the recommended quantity of the allergenic foods there was a two-thirds reduction in overall food allergy.

The aim of the study was to establish whether early introduction of allergenic foods into the diet of breastfed infants would prevent the development of food allergy.

Over 1,300 infants, enrolled at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital, were split randomly into two groups. One group followed standard advice and were exclusively breastfed for around six months. The second group was asked to introduce six allergenic foods to their infants from the age of three months. The allergenic foods introduced to these infants were: fish, cooked egg, milk, wheat, sesame and peanut.

Breastfeeding is best for babies and both groups were asked to follow the Government’s recommendations to continue to breastfeed their children up to the age of two years or beyond. Breastfeeding rates were the same in both groups with more than 96% of infants still being breastfed at six months of age and over 50% in both groups at one year of age.

The study looked at what impact the amount of allergenic food eaten had on food allergy as well as considering how often it was eaten and for how long. It found that the prevention of food allergy may be achieved with weekly consumption of approximately one and half teaspoons of peanut butter and one small boiled egg.

The safety of participants was monitored very closely throughout the study. No cases of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) were reported during the initial introduction period.

Professor Gideon Lack, Principal Investigator, Head of the Department of Paediatric Allergy at King’s College London and Head of the Children’s Allergy Service at Evelina London Children’s Hospital said: 

“The aim of the study was to establish whether early introduction of allergenic foods into the diet of breastfed infants would prevent against the development of food allergy. For those patients who adhered to the study (per-protocol) there was a significant 67% relative reduction in overall food allergy. It is important to note however that when considering all participants, whether or not they adhered to the study protocol, there was no statistically significant difference in developing allergy for either group. Thus allergy prevention through the early introduction of multiple allergenic foods in normal breastfed infants may depend on adherence and dosage.”

“The results of the analysis of infants who managed to consume the recommended amount are most striking for peanut and add to the growing body of evidence from our other studies, that early introduction of peanut prevents the development of peanut allergy in both a high risk population of children with eczema and in a general population.”

Dr Michael Perkin, St George’s University of London Co-Principal Investigator, said: “Through the remarkable efforts of families from throughout England and Wales we have gained huge insights into what may be necessary to help protect infants from developing food allergies. The study will yield important results for a number of years to come.”

Chief Scientific Adviser at the Food Standards Agency Guy Poppy said: “The FSA has an important role to play in helping consumers manage food allergies and this includes expanding our knowledge about how allergies develop. This research is an important part of that work. These findings will add to the body of scientific evidence that helps us inform public health policies and guidelines on infant feeding. While this study will be of interest to parents, we would advise them to continue to follow existing Government infant feeding advice. It should also be emphasised that this research was carried out under guidance of allergy professionals.”

Notes to editors

For further information please contact Jenny Gimpel, PR Manager, King’s College London, on +44 (0)207 848 4334 or +44 (0)771 146 6702 or email jenny.gimpel@kcl.ac.uk.

‘Randomized Trial of Introduction of Allergenic Foods in Breastfed Infants’ by Perkin et al is published online in the New England Journal of Medicine on Friday 4 March 2016 and can be accessed here.

Evelina London Children’s Hospital is part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. For more information about Evelina London Children’s Hospital please visit http://www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk

Guy’s and St Thomas’ is part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC), a collaboration between King’s College London, and Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts. www.kingshealthpartners.org.

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