The possibility that exposing premature and low birth weight babies to food allergens early in life may boost their tolerance later in life is suggested in a new, first-of-its-kind study from the University of Manitoba, Canada.
This study challenges the existing hypothesis that immature gastrointestinal tracts, as found in premature babies, may be more permeable to large molecular weight proteins, thus increasing the absorption of highly allergenic foods and increasing the risk of sensitisation.
Analysing data from 13,980 children living in Manitoba, it was found that 592 of these had a food allergy, but there was no association between weight or maturity at birth and food allergy.
One possible reason for the lower risk of sensitisation might be that orally ingested allergens encourage tolerance in premature infants, prompting the question whether it might be possible that the introduction of highly allergenic proteins - such as peanut - early in life might tolerise, rather than sensitise a child to that particular antigen.
First published July 2007
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