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Food allergies can be prevented by exposure to allergens

Starting at 5 months old, introducing foods children may be allergic to can prevent the development of those allergies.

By Stephen Feller
Introducing peanuts to children when they are infants can prevent allergies because their bodies slowly get used to them over time. Photo by HandmadePictures/Shutterstock.
Introducing peanuts to children when they are infants can prevent allergies because their bodies slowly get used to them over time. Photo by HandmadePictures/Shutterstock.

MANITOBA, Manitoba, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Food allergies among children are becoming more common, but researchers found the best way to prevent children from becoming allergic is to feed them those foods starting early in life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report prevalence of food allergies among children increased by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007, raising concern among parents.

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Because of the increase in children with allergies, rules have been put in place to prevent health events, such as not allowing peanut butter sandwiches at preschools and airlines not serving bags of peanuts during flights.

Many parents act to keep their children away from foods which are potentially allergenic, including peanuts, soy, cow's milk, eggs, shellfish and wheat. Some pregnant and breastfeeding women even go so far as to avoid consuming the foods in order to prevent allergies in their children.

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A new study by researchers at the University of Manitoba suggests this is the wrong approach, and that children should carefully be exposed to foods they may potentially be allergic to.

"It has been well documented that avoidance of allergenic foods is not preventive of food allergy," write Dr. Elissa Abrams and Dr. Allan Becker, researchers at the University of Manitoba, in a new study proposing guidelines for parents, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. "If parents ask how to prevent allergy in their children, our current advice is to introduce the allergenic foods at four to six months of age. Once highly allergenic foods are introduced, regular exposure is important for maintenance of tolerance -- children should eat these foods on a regular basis."

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In creating the guidelines, researchers drew on the LEAP Study, which included more than 600 children between the ages of 4 and 11 months old who were at high risk for developing a peanut allergy.

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The children were randomized into two groups and asked either to consume a peanut-containing snack food 3 times a week or not, continuing until age 5. Of the children who did not eat peanuts, 17 percent developed the allergy by the time they turned 5, while only 3 percent of the children who ate peanuts became allergic.

"For decades allergists have been recommending that young infants avoid consuming allergenic foods such as peanut to prevent food allergies," Dr. Gideon Lack, the lead investigator in the LEAP study, said when the study's results were released. "Our findings suggest that this advice was incorrect and may have contributed to the rise in the peanut and other food allergies."

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