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An overview on whether or not introducing risky foods at an early age can help them build up antibodies and avoid the development of certain allergies.

Doctors have been advising parents for a very long time to avoid giving their babies any foods that fall into the list of most common allergy triggers. It’s a well-known fact that children are very likely to develop allergies to proteins found in milk, peanuts, soy, and even fruit. However, new studies seem to dismantle these old medical concepts, and might actually prove otherwise. 

Early exposure statistics

During the past years, a lot of allergy-related studies have been conducted, with a lot of them being focused on how allergies affect children. Studies have recently shown that a child will develop a food allergy regardless of whether they were exposed to that allergen in their infant years or not. In fact, a study conducted on 600 babies that suffered from egg allergy revealed that the children who ate peanut-based products ended up having an allergy in a much lower percentage compared to those who didn’t eat said products. 

Back in 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study related to the introduction of allergy-causing foods into the diet of breast-fed infants. The study was conducted with 1,000 baby participants, divided into two equal groups. One of the groups of babies was fed exclusively with breast milk over a period of half a year. The other half received foods that are typically known to cause allergic reactions) such as cow’s milk, eggs, or peanuts). The study revealed that fewer babies that were introduced to allergy-related food developed such a reaction between the ages of one to three. 

Of course, the studies are somewhat incomplete, because there’s a matter of how much allergen quantity a baby has to eat. Also, the results of these studies may not be valid for all the eight major allergen food categories. While there’s still testing to be done, the results so far have been promising. 

Food allergy diagnosis in children

The main reason why identifying a food allergy is so difficult is because there are a lot of other health conditions that cause similar symptoms. In consequence, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact food that may cause an allergic reaction. An allergist could recommend an elimination diet, which implies cutting out the suspected food from the child’s meals and then reintroducing them to compared symptoms. When the foods are reintroduced, doctors will look to see if the body of the child triggers an allergic reaction.

A skin prick test could also be conducted. During this test, the doctor pricks the skin on your child’s arm or back, and then applies a liquid extract which contains the suspicious allergen. If the skin begins swelling or itching, that’s a sign of an allergic response. It’s important to note that the skin prick test is mostly valid in detecting airborne allergies, but isn’t that efficient in determining a food-related allergy. 

Pregnancy diet

There are still a lot of studies to be conducted to give out more relevant information on how introducing certain allergens can prevent allergic reactions to foods in babies and children. Until then, mothers should follow the same solid advice that has worked for so long, and try to maintain a healthy pregnancy diet.

Cheese

One of the trickiest food categories for pregnant women is cheese. Certain soft cheeses should be avoided (assortments like goat cheese, camembert, or brie) because they could contain Listeria (a harmful bacteria). Soft cheeses are also moist, which means that they are a favorable environment for bacteria growth. However, these cheeses are safe for consumption if they have been thoroughly cooked.

Eggs

Since eggs are also a tricky food, it’s best to cook them before eating. Both the egg’s white and the yolk should be solid when consumed. That means that pregnant women should avoid foods that are prepared with raw eggs, such a mayonnaise or mousse.

Raw meat or fish

Raw or undercooked meat increases the risk of toxoplasmosis, so all the meats consumed during pregnancy should be really well cooked. Future mothers should also be careful when preparing meat-based foods, as bacteria and parasites can come in contact with the skin, and easily be ingested. 

Most of the dietary precautions during pregnancy are actually not related to allergies, but rather to prevent other health conditions that could lead to complication or, in the worst-case scenario, miscarriage. 

A very common myth revolves around the fact that eating peanuts during pregnancy increases the risk of the child becoming allergic to peanuts. In reality, it is safe to eat peanuts during pregnancy unless, of course, you have a peanut allergy yourself. 

Additional tips

  • Breastfeeding
  • Take caution when introducing new foods
  • Expose them to allergens in small doses

Breastfeeding your baby during the first year of life is actually beneficial towards potentially eliminating the risk of them developing a food allergy. Breast milk is essential towards developing the baby's immune system, not to mention that it’s linked to other major health benefits as well. 

A baby is ready to start a diversified diet around six months of age. Gradually, that would be a good time to introduce them to some of the common foods known to cause allergies. With the necessary safety measures, any form of allergic complication can be avoided, if need be. 

Another solid piece of advice is to regularly feed your child with common food allergens. This will help them develop and maintain tolerance, thus decreasing the odds of them becoming allergic to those foods. 

Conclusion

There are a lot of crazy theories revolving around babies and allergies. Studies over the past decade have shown that introducing children to allergy-related food in their infancy can actually be a good thing. In case you suspect your child of having an allergic reaction to a specific food category or a protein, feel free to keep a food diary, but also to consult a doctor.

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