We Were So Wrong about Allergies

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

[INTRO ♪] As a parent, it sometimes feels like you have a lot to worry about. And if your kid happens to have food allergies, that can make things even more complicated. Like, not only do you have to keep them away from electrical outlets and busy streets, but you also have to keep them far away from foods like peanuts, shellfish, milk, and eggs. After all, symptoms like a tingling or itchy mouth, hives, and difficulty breathing can quickly balloon into a life-threatening emergency. Basically, childhood food allergies are no joke. So it might make you cringe to learn that, not long ago, doctors were making recommendations about them we now believe were totally backwards—and could even have made things worse. But how did we misunderstand this so badly? This all started in the mid-1990s, when the number of kids with food allergies was on the rise. So the medical community raised the alarm, searching for ways to prevent these allergies from happening. One approach came in 2000, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They started recommending that people not give some of the most common allergenic foods to kids who had a high risk of allergies until they were a little older. That meant no milk until after a kid was 1, no eggs until age 2, and no peanuts or seafood until age 3. These guidelines were mostly based on experts’ hunches, but there were a few studies to back them up. For example, there was one from 1990 that followed a group of children in New Zealand until they turned 10. It found that, if kids were given a full diet of diverse allergens before they turned 4 months old, they were more likely to have recurrent or chronic eczema, which often goes hand in hand with food allergies. Similarly, a 1994 study looked at 113 Finnish children whose parents had food allergies. And it found that at age 5, food allergies were significantly more common in kids that started solid foods at 3 months old than those who started solids later. In 1999, there was even a formal report supported by leading European medical societies that suggested that introducing solid foods before 5 months could increase the risk of food allergies. Over time, more and more medical societies began to agree that yes, doctors should keep advising parents to put off feeding allergenic foods to their babies. But then, starting around 2006, studies started coming out suggesting the exact opposite. There don’t seem to have been any flaws in the older studies that scientists can put their collective finger on. Nevertheless, the data began to reflect a
different perspective. For instance, a study published that year that followed more than 1600 children from birth to age 5. It found an increased risk of having a wheat allergy in kids who started eating wheat later—
after 6 months of age. The emerging data soon came to a tipping point and, in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics reversed their stance. Again, other leading health and medical institutions followed suit. They issued guidelines for introducing the most common allergenic foods as soon as babies showed that they could handle solid food, which typically happens at 4 to 6 months old. And if you’re wondering why the data pulled a one-eighty, so are the experts. Doctors don’t quite understand why earlier studies suggested a benefit to delaying allergenic foods. But more and more research shows that they were totally wrong. For example, the 2015 Learning Early About Peanut trial showed that introducing peanut protein early is actually a good thing. And the 2016 Enquiring About Tolerance study also found it was safe to introduce a handful of allergenic foods to infants under 6 months old. So there’s plenty of evidence to back up
the reversal of previous guidelines. Unfortunately, though, there still isn’t a whole lot of specific advice when it comes to actively preventing food allergies across the population. Studies so far have looked at variables like exactly how much of each allergen to introduce to babies and how often. They’ve also studied whether those recommendations should differ based on geographical location, and whether the same advice applies to infants with and without risk factors that predispose them to developing food allergies. But there isn’t enough evidence yet to translate those studies into real recommendations for parents. That’s going to take more research—like more studies into how factors other than when you first eat a food affect whether you develop an allergy. And more studies that aren’t just about peanuts. One thing’s clear, though: That old advice to delay infants’ exposure to allergenic foods still has a hold on the parenting world, and not everyone is totally caught up on the latest guidelines. Thankfully, the most up-to-date recommendations do tell parents not to bother delaying common allergens like wheat and peanuts. Instead, they say to start introducing plenty of different foods as soon as your baby is ready for them. But when it comes to your individual kids, don’t take it from us, and definitely don’t take it from random strangers on the internet parenting forums. If you’re really concerned about food allergies in your kids, consult a pediatrician. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow. We couldn’t make smart, free videos like this without the help of our supporters. To learn more, check us out at patreon.com/scishow. [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “We Were So Wrong about Allergies

  1. Experts don't like to say "I/We don't know." This leads them to collectively form consensus based on the best available days which can be tissue thin but no one wants to admit it.

    And Kat lay parole can be just as bad, demanding concrete answers 24hr nombre are to be had, and the ignoring experts who are willing to say, "We don't know-how," in favor of anyone who claims too have an answer.

  2. A related note – the advice doctors give against honey for the first year is not for allergy reasons. The advice against honey is because of the risk of botulism spores which are not dangerous after the first year, but can be dangerous to younger babies.

  3. I've read that our love affair with anti-microbial products isn't helping our children, either. Which makes sense: we evolved (and live) in a world teeming with micro-organisms. Some are harmless; some are beneficial; some cause diseases. Exposure primes our immune systems. Allergies of various sorts occur when the body mistakes harmless substances for dangerous ones. (Also: bacteria are gaining resistance to those products.)

    So ease up on the wipes and soaps. The kitchen doesn't have to rival the clean rooms at the CDC after every sandwich, and the kids won't die if all you have is a tissue and some spit to wipe their mouths.

  4. The trails should begin when the woman is pregnant. What she eats should have an influence on the child.

  5. If you’re allergic to nuts or bees you just weren’t meant to live on this earth. Eliminate urself from the gene pool

  6. As an environmental scientist/engineer I can explain the earlier bad conclusions.
    A few key leaders made a decision and not enough folks had the courage to point out the Emperor's new clothes.
    Modern Western academia is incredibly doctrinally driven, from gender studies to 'scientific' conclusions.
    Ask Dr Alvarez. (google 'alvarez hypothesis')

  7. Doctor: hmmm, this childs immune system is treating this new food like its an infection…. how do we get it to learn how to deal with it?
    Antivaxxer: Boy Do I Have A Solution For You: Keep It Far Away During Those Critical Adjustment Times!

  8. people living in advanced nations get more allergies compare to people living in poor nations.
    because they are raised TOO CLEAN.

  9. When I was young I used to get hives all over the back of my knees and inside of my elbows occasionally. No idea what caused it, but my doctor insisted it looked like a food allergy. They gradually faded to nothing and it's still a mystery.

  10. Has anyone looked at what's being added to food that may be effecting human bodies? What effect has chemical sprays on food have on a babies digestive system.

  11. Like the bad recommendations for avoiding disease by killing all germs. Go
    for the simplistic "avoid" strategy and ignore the complicated immune system
    or population dynamics. Never even try to get at the root cause. You see it all
    over particularly in government. See a problem, enshrine a new program.

  12. Why feed tiny tiny tiny "babies" fed stuff* solid like chocolate
    (If you are allergic to chocolate rip)

  13. My pediatrician recommend my mom give me peanut butter on cheerios when I was ~1 year old and yet…. I'm 22 now and still have a massive peanut allergy. I've also had small-dose exposure to most of my other allergens over the years (milk and tree nuts to name the other too 8's) and my allergies have only gotten worse since I was a kid.

    Of course, correlation =/= causation, but my personal theory is that different kids with different risk factors benifit from seperate recommendations. Some kids might do better avoiding, and others do better with exposure. Something to be explored. Also breastmilk, since protiens are transferred when breastfeeding.

  14. I wonder if its possible that those early studies simply didn't have large enough test groups. I mean we saw that one of the older studies only followed 113 children, while one of the newer studies followed over 1600. 113 is actually a really small test group when you are trying to test a broad hypothesis such as food allergies.

  15. All I would eat as a baby was carrots, I even asked for a birthday carrot instead of cake for my 3rd birthday. Well 13 years later I’m deathly allergic to carrots!!! I can’t even touch one without getting a severe reaction!

  16. the gluten content in wheat is not the same as before. they should take that into consideration i think.

  17. Why do they feel the need to give their studies cheesy acronym friendly titles? Learning Early About Peanut so you can call it LEAP…

  18. 1st kid we listened to doctors and he has lot allergies eczema and learning problems and there was nothing in prescreenings 2nd kid we did not listen to us doctors and went Chinese doctor she was eating solid food early exposed to everything she is unstoppable and will rule the world

  19. I gave both my kids small amounts of milk, eggs, and peanut butter starting from when they were 3-4 months old.

  20. Not once did they say breast feeding, interesting since myself as a child and my kids all have been brest fed and have no allergies. That means i didn't get introduced into solid foods or any foods till almost age 2. I had posted about how this piece seems like it was designed not to even mention the world breast milk. And some fanatic said i was a novelist conspiracy theories making money off of books. Lol. So i guess since science says people can feed introduce food to kids at 6 months that seems weird, and most don't even gave teeth at that age, and still have basic human reflects that correspond to breast feeding

  21. I was born in 1993 with extreme, deadly allergies to all nuts and legumes, including soy which is in everything. My mom just fed me breast milk, bananas, and rice because my allergies and stomach problems were so severe. When I was two, my pediatrician told my mom to start giving me small amounts of almonds and peanuts, and monitor me. Then soy, etc. Because I was re-exposed to these allergens so young, I no longer have food allergies (though I still experience stomach discomfort whenever I eat soy products). What the doctor recommended was super unusual at the time, but he was right.

  22. As someone who used to have a childhood peanut allergy, I super appreciate this vid! Not a lot of people know about the connection between allergies and eczema, but I had both back when I was little.

  23. There's still a lot of health care professionals & organisations out there not up to date on this & recommending that babies not be given anything but breast milk for at least 6 months, some trying to suggest only breast milk for 12 months! Like the video said though, early introduction of solids can help with allergies. In the underdeveloped world, care is needed to prevent food poisoning & if in doubt, breast is best, but in the developed world, allergies win out (plus most kids need more than just breast milk before 6 months of age anyway, certainly before 12 months!)

  24. Oh, on that note, why are allergies like strawberries and blueberries common in young children but then seem to sort of go away?

  25. I grew up in the 60’s. We lived on PB&J. I only knew one kid that had a peanut allergy and having an allergy to any other food was unheard of. Not to say other food allergies weren’t out there at that time, but it seems to me that today’s kids are allergic to everything.

  26. I remember a new mum at the baby clinic almost screaming when she saw me hand my youngest (who was five months old) a peanut butter sandwich. She pulled a baby book out of her bag, and did not appreciate me pointing out that baby books are designed to cash in on new mum anxiety, and once she’d had a few more kids, she’d understand how useless they are because the ‘rules for babies’ change every couple of years. She was convinced my kids were going to die or be permanently damaged because I wasn’t following the trendy rules in her book. All my kids were started on baby rice and mashed potato at 11 weeks, and they grew up fine – they all went to college, and none of them have allergies.

  27. Likely all the studies suck. Most "scientists" suck. Dumping things into a blackbox, and observing the macroscopic output, is junk science. Without understanding the full chain of chemical reactions, they are just guessing – with a small sample size. Stop it!

  28. Pseudoscience person: "Ha! Your stupid, precious science got this thing wrong!"
    Me: "Well, yeah, but it was other scientists that proved it wrong with more research…"

  29. I'm still wondering why all the Millenials and younger have SO MANY DEADLY Food Allergies. I just don't recall this at ALL when I was growing up in the 80's. EVERY KID had PB&J, often daily LOL

  30. This is why my mum wasn't too fussed if we ate a bit of dirt when playing as it builds up your tolerance to bacteria and my siblings and I rarely got sick growing up.

  31. I would argue that the problem with the previous studies was a poor sample size. If you don't have a sample size of at least 100 people then you really need to take the study with a grain of salt.

  32. "doctors have been wrong for decades about this… but if you're not sure ask a doctor."

    something seems backwards there too…

  33. Food allergies is extremely rare in Asia. Never heard of anyone with food allergies in my entire 40 years of life. Singapore is pretty much the same as any western city except for our diet. I believe it is western diet that is causing allergies.

  34. Remember that parent are as smart as snails when talking about children health. Desperate mothers are antivaccines, curing autism and going to church to exorcise demons. Yet, science has not been able to cure dumbness…
    I'm from Mexico, and here is more value the word of "la comadre" than the doctor. The good thing is that vaccines are obligated here, and no dumb antivaccers. Here are not that common alergic people, only to lactose. Another day of not knowing alergicness…

  35. I have two kids, both were introduced to allergens early and both were breastfed no one in either my husband’s or my family have food allergies and yet, my youngest has an allergy to peanuts. There seems to be little logic to it, at least in our home.

  36. If you see people from developing countries like mine, Indonesia most of us don't have allergies like you guys in western countries because our parents just give us normal food when we're babies, my sister ate her first durian before 1 yo. There are many people who live in village like I was and when I was a toddler my mom let me play in our garden with bugs, worms and other animals. Now I'm 25 years old and no allergies

  37. Well, this is not that hard IMHO, not using solid food means usually breastfeeding, and that is also very beneficial for children.
    Basically breastfeeding is good, earlier confrontation with allergenic stuff is beneficial. So, if you keep (limited) breastfeeding while starting to feed proper food for the children is the best. The previous ones just forgone the other factors, like early solids means limited breastfeeding, while the newer ones focus mostly only in the allergenics, and not the other stuff.

  38. Every time I hear New Zealand I flinch because it catches me so off guard. Sometimes it feels like we don't even live on the same planet as America

  39. Very interesting and thank you! My husband has a lot of food allergies, and this is something in the back of my mind as we start trying to have a baby. Good to know that research has changed and I'll make sure to have a good discussion with our pediatrician when the time comes.

  40. I heard that introducing common allergens to the mother during pregnancy was a good way to prevent allergies. When I have a kid on the way, my wife is gonna go to petting zoos and eat strawberries and peanuts often. Maybe pseudo-science — I have no idea — but it couldn't hurt.

  41. For those who don't know if food is safe to eat or not. You first make whatever you wish to test eating into a paste and apply it to your elbow. After hours and no reaction you then apply a small amount to your lip, again after hours apply a tiny amount inside of the cheek. After hours roll it around in your mouth but do not swallow and spit out. Again after hours and no side effects you can safely digest the smallest amount again after hours of no side effects you then can consuming larger doses but be careful. This is how you test for poisonest plants. I'm 100% sure you can apply this to allergies. Your body tends to react to things, not just your throat. I could be off with a step or two but this is what I can remember from my survival training.

  42. I don’t agree. Small doses to start with, slowly increase the dose. I’ve seen it done and that person now has no allergies
    I’m no scientist, but the earlier the better.
    The human immune system needs to meet the things it will encounter later in life.

  43. Food allergies occur most often because these substances proteins get into the blood stream. Those who work in meat packing are far more likely to be allergic to meat for example. The dot that connects the early studies in young children with developing allergies is milk consumption. Many countries are obsessed with feeding their infant another animals milk full of non-human proteins. Thats not a big deal until you combine it with irritation and inflammation. Then these other foods get a free ride into the blood stream and then you get food allergies to them as well.

  44. If George Washington Carver did not know which amino acid proteins were in peanuts when he started experimenting with them, then how do we know that they were not a complete protein at one time? Something seems a little off about the legume.

  45. Waiting for the "we are wrong about fat", "we were wrong about recommended diet", and "we were wrong about cholesterol".

  46. Possible problems with earlier studies, based on what the video said about them:NZ study: Those kids with eczema were introduced to solid food/allergens before 4 mos. which may be too early for solid food and thus their digestive systems were not developed enough to handle these potential allergens. Also, eczema doesn't necessarily mean food allergies.Finnish study: Same problem with time, but even earlier (solid foods before 3 mos.). Also, the parents having food allergies may have significantly affected the kinds of foods they gave to their children.The biggest problem is both studies were epidemiological studies, observational/statistical studies, which are great at proposing avenues for research, but completely useless for treatment. Too many people still don't get that only well conducted double-blind control experiments are useful in most of those medical settings.

  47. Those studies were based on feeding infants solid food before it's currently recommended to give infants solid food. A 3 month old's digestive system just isn't ready yet, so it's quite reasonable that giving them solid food already could cause problems.

  48. I’ve heard some people say our obsession with cleanliness is making us a lot more vulnerable to disease, and I think it’s definitely possible. Hand sanitiser protects you only until you get an infected cut, then you’re on your own.

  49. If more infants die of anaphylactic shock, there will be fewer young children with allergies. But this is TOO obvious to not have been taken into consideration in these studies, right?

  50. Well, for the two studies mentioned, it's pretty obvious to me why the conclusion was wrong: It wasn't a matter of the study being flawed, but rather it being absconded to "support" a conclusion that it wasn't designed for. The one about eczema was looking at… eczema. I had eczema growing up; it was all about the pollen. Connecting a skin rash to food allergies is a massive, unjustified leap; there are plenty of other reasons why eczema and food allergies might have appeared to be correlated in other studies. Correlated being the key word, not causal. As for the one about solid food… How is that even remotely justified? One of the major allergens they listed was MILK. Milk is what parents tend to give kids before solid foods. I'm sure if I dug around, I could find other allergens popping up in babies formulas, but I don't need to, because this is enough to make the point again that the study wasn't asking the question they pretended it answered when they used it to justify delaying allergenic foods to kids.

    This is a lesson in designing studies to test your hypothesis, not just looking around for studies other people have done that might support your hypothesis.

  51. My family has always preached that it's best to give babies everything when they're young. The real trick is to continue eating it your whole life. The high risk factor is if you do have something when you're young and then don't have it again until you're much older.
    Your body can't remember it correctly and might perceive it as dangerous. At least that's what the doctor told my grandma after she developed an allergy to strawberries and soy. She didn't particularly like them to begin with so when she ate them later in life she had a very adverse reaction.

  52. Coming from the west and having lived in the Middle East and North Africa recently it seems that the increase in allergies can mostly be found in western developed countries. I would be interested to see what the Chinese, Russian and Indian health organizations have observed regarding this.

  53. I mean an allergy is just an immune reaction. Makes perfect sense that early, limited exposure would help the body normalize the proteins that trigger allergic reactions.

  54. Alergies are the result of a hypochondriac lifestyle.

    BTW, how can you stand those thin braces?

  55. maybe its not that it should be delayed but the dosage given when given should be less so as to not trigger the immune response. train the immune system not to care or over react when it sees those allergenic foods.

    I wonder if the study might have been thrown off by the dosage when connected to baby body weight. it might have been the first tests was the result of too much given for the baby body weight.

    the new tests might have such influences as smaller doses or larger babies or both.

    if the body over reacts when it first sees it that might incorrectly teach the body to over react.
    just some thoughts I wonder if they had been considered.

  56. My parents exposed me to cigarette smoke at a young age so hopefully I'm now immune? Seriously 50 years ago they'd bring you your baby to nurse in the hospital along with an ashtray. And probably a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. It shows how primitive we still are regarding health care. People worry about food yet poison alcohol and new forms of smoking various substances are still very popular

  57. What they found out was basically if you start kids on solids earlier, you find out what they're allergic to quicker

  58. Sheltered kids are the ones most susceptible to this sort of thing. I thought that was common knowledge since the dawn of time.

  59. It's possible that the old advice was due to maybe the study being based on researchers either faulsifying the research, or they just did simple research where they only asked the mums when they started introducing food, and perhaps some of the mums actually gave good earlier without knowing or telling the researchers? Who knows, but it is possible that allergies worked differently because we now have GMO, etc; that way it's possible that allergies work totally different now.

  60. im just gonna bombard my kid with plenty of exposure to vaccines, outside air/soil, native microbes, and allergens.

    a tested immune system is an effective immune system

  61. I'm not convinced. There is a milk allergy in my family, or rather lactose intolerance. My cousin introduced milk from the word go whereas I delayed its introduction for two years. My cousin's children developed lactose intolerance and had to drink goat's milk for nearly 10 years before they grew our of it. Mine could drink milk as soon as I introduced it to them. On the other hand, I think many allergies are caused by too clean environment: when the immune system has no job to do because the environment is so clean, it will overreact against what should be safe to touch or consume. This idea is based on my anecdotal observations as a mother, nanny and a kindergarten teacher over the last 35 years in hygienic western world and in third world where it is not usually possible to reach to the same level of hygiene.

  62. Is there any research on infants being exposed to allergens through their mother's milk during breastfeeding? I've always figured I'd eat as full a diet as possible while pregnant and breast feeding, so the baby is exposed to potential allergens in a smaller, more controlled way before they can even eat solid food. I thought this was also a part of recommendations for pregnancy, but it wasn't mentioned here?

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