When you have a food allergy, steering clear of your dreaded allergen becomes a top priority. But new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that, if given at the right time in the right amount, introducing children to certain high-risk foods may reduce their chances of developing allergies to these foods when they get older.
Up front, it’s important to mention that the study, in its conclusion, admits, “The trial did not show the efficacy of early introduction of allergenic foods in an intention-to-treat analysis.” However, that finding comes with an important caveat: Only about one third of those included in the study actually adhered to what researchers said they should do. According to CNN, who spoke with one of the researchers, Gideon Lack of Kings College London, when you look strictly at the subset of people who followed instructions properly, children developed a 100 percent protection against peanuts and a 75 percent protection against eggs. “Further analysis suggests that the possibility of preventing food allergy by means of the early introduction of multiple allergenic foods in normal breast-fed infants may depend on adherence and dose,” the study states.
In many ways, the mixed results only bring up more questions. Clearly further research (with more willing participants) is necessary to test these theories. But as allergy expert Hugh Sampson told CNN, the findings speak to a larger problem. “Only one third of families actually complied with the protocol,” he pointed out. “[This] reflects what will happen if this becomes a general policy.”
For now, researchers stress that you shouldn’t try these approaches outside of a scientific trial: Don’t start feeding your infant Snickers bars to ensure you’ll be able to pack him PB&Js to take to kindergarten. But as this research continues, it’s possible timetables for introducing young children to potential allergens could emerge. As if those parenting books weren’t long and confusing enough as is.