January 25, 2022
Our next blog is by Sandra Brastein, who is currently completing a Master of Human Nutrition at Deakin University and works as a nutritionist in Oslo. She has a special interest in the impact of diet on gut health and mood, and since becoming a mum herself, has also developed an interest in infant and child nutrition.
Australia has one of the highest rates of infant food allergy in the world, with around 10% of Australian infants estimated to have a food allergy, including 3% with peanut allergy. Several factors are behind the increase in food allergies, including improved hygiene, antibiotic use, increased exposure to allergens through food and medicinal creams, as well as delayed introduction of solids to infants.
What is a food allergy?
Allergy is an immune system reaction to something that is normally harmless to the body, in this case, a specific food protein. Symptoms of peanut allergy include skin or gastrointestinal symptoms and difficulty breathing, which in severe cases, can be life-threatening.
Peanut allergy is usually lifelong
Eight foods are responsible for the majority of food allergies: cow’s milk, soy, hen’s egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish. Many children outgrow food allergies by the time they reach school age, however peanut allergy tends to be lifelong. For now, the only way to manage food allergy is to avoid the trigger food, although some research trialling regular peanut intake to increase tolerance has reported promising results.
Introducing peanut early may reduce risk of allergy
Previously, experts recommended delaying introduction of allergenic foods for infants at risk of allergy. However, a UK trial investigating early peanut introduction in 640 infants with existing eczema or egg allergy found that introducing peanuts reduced the risk of developing peanut allergy by 86%.
A follow-up to the UK study found no significant change in rates of allergy after asking ‘early-introduction’ participants to avoid peanut for 12 months. This may indicate that early introduction can lead to permanent tolerance.
The new guidelines appear to be working
A recent survey of 1140 Australian parents indicates that most parents are following the new recommendations, reporting that peanuts were introduced before 12 months in 94% of infants, with the rate of medically-diagnosed peanut allergy only 1.6% among these children.
Following these studies, the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy now recommends introducing allergenic foods, including peanuts, before 12 months of age for all infants.
However, please talk to your Maternal health nurse or doctor if you have any questions.
Learn what good infant nutrition looks like, how and what to feed a baby, and how to start weaning in Deakin University’s free Infant Nutrition online course.