Diverse Foods Early in Life Associated with Lower Rates of Asthma and Food Allergies
Allergies and asthma are associated with an overreaction of the immune system to everyday environmental factors such as chemicals in the air, certain foods, pet dander, or pollens. It is not clear what makes the immune system begin to overreact but many believe people start with a genetic tendency to develop allergies or asthma and something in their environment triggers the change. Since the immune system develops most in infancy, many have looked at diet and environment in young children to look for trends that may contribute to the development of allergies or asthma.
Researchers in Finland conducted a large study to look for potential associations between a child's early diet and the development of allergies and asthma. The data collected from the study, published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggested that low food diversity in the first year of life may increase the risk of future allergies or asthma.
The large cohort study
included 3,142 children whose parents kept a food diary. Information for this study included data on 856 children whose parents maintained food diaries during the child's entire first year of life. Questionnaire's were sent when the child reach 5 years of age to assess development of asthma, wheezing, atopic eczema, and allergic rhinitis. The data found that:
- Less food diversity at 3-4 months of age was not associated with increased risk of allergies or asthma
- Less food diversity at 6 months of age was associated with increased risk of allergic rhinitis
- Less food diversity at 12 months of age was associated with increased risk of asthma, atopic asthma, wheeze and allergic rhinitis
Cohort studies are simply observational studies. This means that researchers simply observe events to look for potential links, they can not determine cause and effect. This study found that there may be a connection between food diversity in the first year of life but the reason for this connection is not clear. More studies will need to be done before the connection will be confirmed.
Work with your child's doctor to plan a schedule for introducing foods. In the first six months, exclusive breastfeeding or formula is most often recommended for most babies. Once your child begins to eat solid foods, gradually introduce them to a variety of food choices to help get optimal nutrition.
Nwaru B, et al. Food diversity in infancy and the risk of childhood asthma and allergies. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Apr;133(4):1084
Last Reviewed April 2014