Does “early introduction” research really help?
In the media there is a huge amount of coverage of studies like the LEAP and EAT study which examine the relationship between early introduction of solids and high risk foods and their benefits on reducing the risk of sensitisation to allergies.
Personally, I’m not entirely sure how helpful the emphasis on this area of research is. With the number of people of all ages developing allergies, there seems to be a huge amount of contributing factors that emphasise and stress early introduction doesn’t necessarily help.
As altruistic as it is to want to reduce the number of children who have allergies, focusing solely on the area of early exposure seems more like a distraction method and smoke screen to distract people from the lack of widely accepted understanding and research into why our societies are having such an exponential increase of allergic hypersensitivities as well as intolerance.
When previous years upon years of research supported the fact that an infants intestinal permeability reduces as it “seals” around the middle of their first year of life, and that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six month is protective against allergies as well as other long term chronic health, gastric, inflammatory and autoimmune disorders for life. It seems extremely counter productive to suggest early weaning for all as a way of avoiding things that breastfeeding in and of itself is protective of. Breastmilk can provide early exposure to these proteins through breastmilk, which formula fed babies will be lacking and may benefit from solids slightly earlier.
Obviously breastfed babies can still have allergies. That doesn’t mean those babies wouldn’t be at higher rims of more allergies and more acute reactions had they been fed artificial. Breastmilk can also help children heal and “grow out of allergies” quicker.
My main concern is that these studies have been taken by the media and presented as though all children (regardless of family history, or exposure to breastmilk) are better off being weaned early without any due assessment for prior sensitisation. During the studies, they assessed all the children, by tests including skin prick tests (that are associated by some with increased risk of sensitisation). Then in a controlled environment these children were exposed. With the exponential rise of allergies, children with no obvious family history of allergies are increasingly developing them, and even those with a family history – or current symptoms of allergy – can struggle to get appropriate testing at a young age. So most parents are left to expose their (increasingly young) infants to high risk foods without any kind of indication as to whether a sensitisation is likely.
Then companies like “one spoon” capitalise on a parent’s fear of delaying introduction by putting all of the allergens in “one spoon” which has the potential to risk the lives of infants who have unknown sensitivities.
So to me, though it may save some children from sensitisation, it completely undermines the importance of exclusive nursing for the first 6months and then along side solids beyond that as being tremendously more protective in reducing allergy risk. It also poses a huge risk to those who have unknown sensitivities, and diverts the focus to why allergies have been increasing exponentially.
When the role of nutrition, toxin exposure and reduced microbial diversity, can all play a tremendous role in these things. They’re swept aside, and reduced to timing. When people of all ages can develop allergies at any time, and do. When people travel internationally without being allergic to local foods away from home. When people change from restrictive diets, from choice or poverty, to more abundant food diversity and abundance without issues.
The timing of food may or may not make a difference to some, especially those who are formula fed, but that does not mean we should allow that potential to undermine the importance of breastmilk in reducing allergic sensitisation. Or that we should ignore our children’s existing sensitivities to prevent increased sensitisation.
We need to keep aspiring towards increased health, as individuals, as a society and for the planet. Then we might see a reverse in this trend toward hypersensitive and chronic illness. Stressing about how and when we introduce foods is one small piece in the bigger puzzle, and everyone’s puzzle is different with different contributing factors.
Great info on readiness and when to start solids, though not allergy specific:
Our own starting solids FAQ:
Leaping to conclusions by Maureen Minchin author of “the milk hypothesis” discussing the influence of generational formula use and allergies.
Skin prick tests and sensitisation:
Eat study team inc potential conflicts of interests from personal remuneration:
Study shows no correlation with timing of introduction and sensitisation:
TEDx Talk on GMO and allergies:
Potential risk of sensitisation through skin testing: