Weaning babies to prevent allergies

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Conventional wisdom used to be that strong allergens such as peanuts, wheat, milk, yeast, etc. should be avoided in infants with a family history of allergy up until the age of 2. The idea was to prevent sensitisation to these foods at an early age. That advice is now being turned on its head as we learn a little bit more about immunology. See Oral immunotherapy: switching off food allergies using food

Basic Principles

It is always helpful to look to Nature and Evolution to gain a rational basis to underpin what we should be doing. If you look at life from the point of view of the gut, it has to distinguish between good things which are desirable and helpful such as nutritious foods and friendly bacteria in the gut and at the same time it has to reject harmful substances and pathogenic bugs. How does it do this?

The immune system is programmed by what comes from mother – that is to say if mother supplies such a food or such a bacteria, then it is safe. Bacteria from mother’s gut should be inoculated into the baby’s gut within a few minutes of it being born – see Probiotics - we should all be taking these all the time and double the dose following antibiotics and gastroenteritis. Ideally, the baby should be breast fed exclusively for the first few weeks and probably months. Any food antigens that get into mother’s gut spill over into the breast milk and start the process of gut tolerance – that is to say, the gut learns to tolerate and to accept those foods which have already passed through mother’s gut and into mother’s breast milk (so long as mother is not allergic to those foods!). For a more detailed description and discussion please see Reprogramming the Immune System – where conventional and complementary medicine can come together

Weaning by kissing

The next stage is weaning. There is an interesting story here from our distant (and not so distant) past and the world of birds. Birds regurgitate food for their chicks in the nest. What should happen at weaning is that the food that mother normally eats is chewed up by mother until it is a soft consistency, free from bones and stones and well mixed with her saliva. It is then spat out and fed to the baby directly. Indeed, this is the evolutionary basis of kissing – the implication here being that a woman who is a good kisser will be good at feeding her baby! Again, we have adult food being processed, possibly immune tagged by mother’s saliva so that the baby’s gut accepts it. This is inducing gut tolerance to foods. So, all you new mums reading this – why not try this method of weaning your baby? Initially you only need to give your baby 1-2 spoonful of chewed up food a day and this will start the process of gut tolerance. The evolutionarily correct diet, of course, is the stone age diet and this is what mother should be eating! See Stone Age Diet - this is a diet which we all should follow. I would still be wary about giving the baby milk from other mammals, simply because there is a very strong association between dairy products and Type I diabetes. Dairy products are also the commonest allergen in childhood. They are not evolutionarily correct foods!

Wean onto a stoneage diet

Once the baby is independent of mother’s milk and mother’s chewed food, he/she should be tolerant of all foods on a normal stone age diet. Because of modern farming methods, the micronutrient content of food is deficient and supplements of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, vitamins C and D should be given as a routine. Of course when the baby is being breast fed, these micronutrients all appear in the breast milk because mother too should be taking them. See Nutritional Supplements - what everybody should be taking all the time even if nothing is wrong

Broadly speaking, foods introduced to the gut result in immune tolerance. The converse is true of substances applied to the skin, or substances inhaled, which tend to cause immune sensitisation, or allergy. This explains why smoking is so pernicious to babies. Furthermore, one should not rub creams or oils onto the baby’s skin because this will tend to cause sensitisation – indeed many creams contain peanut oil and this may explain the epidemic of peanut allergy we are currently seeing. Interestingly, in Israel there is a snack given to babies which does contain peanut – it is widely used and peanut anaphylaxis there is rare.

Do not overfeed

Finally, do not over-feed your baby. Infant weight charts are being revised downwards. They have been set too high, babies have been growing too quickly and become too fat. Fat babies result in fat adults later on in life and obesity is a major risk factor for inflammation, for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Sunshine is essential

Babies should also be exposed to as much sunshine as possible without their skin actually burning. Do not use sun creams which can cause dermal sensitisation and prevent vitamin D synthesis in the skin. In Australia the kids wear wonderful thin sunsuits when sunshine is unavoidable - these are available in the UK too - see justkidswear sunsuits webpage. Vitamin D has a marked anti-inflammatory effect and is highly protective against the development of Type I diabetes. In winter, supplement with 1,000iu of vitamin D daily.

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