Well well well, the childhood allergy experts are rethinking some advice that has been etched in granite for over a decade. And it’s not the first time dogma turns out not to be, either. Over and over, science confirms time-honored truths:
“What’s true today may not be tomorrow.”
We’ve seen vacillation on whether postmenopausal hormone therapy protects coronary artery disease, or if circumcisions should go the way of the dodo bird, and now it’s about restricting highly allergenic foods in infancy. What’s a mom to do? Read on…..
You can’t buy a box of cereal, candy bar or almost any other processed food these days without seeing the prominent caution: “Warning, the equipment used in preparing this product may have been used in products using soy, peanuts…..” or the like. Why? The rate of food allergies is skyrocketing in America’s youth, and restaurants and the food industry is justifiably scared out of their britches about receiving a liability claim. It’s not without some justification, since good allergies can cause life-threatening reactions, including asphyxiating throat swelling and multi-system collapse in the worst cases. Pediatricians and allergy/immunology experts have been scrambling-and mobilizing their research efforts-to make sense of it for a couple of decades now. The state of confusion is spotlighted by a January report from the highly regarded American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology that recommends moms do a complete 180 from how pediatricians advised them to introduce certain foods about a decade ago.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) advised in 2000 that kids should avoid milk until age 1, eggs until 2, and peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish until 3. This was based on the theory, and some supporting observations, that exposing infants to highly allergenic items would prime their immune systems for later reactions.
But wait. Just a few years ago, the AAP backed off, saying that food allergies aren’t delayed are avoided by withholding the staples after 4-6 months of age
Now allergists are pushing that notion further. Yes, we SHOULD start slowly introducing solid foods at 4-6 months. First, fruits, vegetables and grains, one at a time, then the highly allergenic ones, all gradually and step wise. Of course nursing exclusively for 6 months is very important, and continuing on as practical during the solid introduction would be my recommendation. But does this advice apply to infants whose parents or siblings have atopy (eczema, asthma, food sensitivities, seasonal runny nose–all allergy spurred or exacerbated conditions)?
Yes! Give ‘me some peanut butter, or some eggs or even a morsel of that cod or shrimp! Whoa, what’s going on here?
While no one knows with any certainty why childhood allergies in general, and food allergies in this case are spiraling, there are some clues: First, it appears that an important window of trainability occurs around this time, and if the immature immune system doesn’t “learn” about these future foodstuffs, it may become over reactive, trying to treat them like a foreign invader. This activates a sometimes-explosive skin, lung, throat or intestinal reaction.
A related theory suggests that living in our super-hygienic society similarly results in too little familiarity early childhood education…. of the immune system! That may explain why rural kids who play in the barnyard seem to be less ‘allergic’ than their city counterparts.
Historically we have from birth been surrounded by germs. That may play some role in balancing our immune systems to attack germs and cancer cells, while ignoring foods I’m not advocating no showers or baths, though the little buggers may like that, just recommending common sense and some homage to a life with just a little less alcohol hand gel and concrete playgrounds.