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Koladorina via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Pediatricians Recommend Including Eggs and Peanuts in Babies’ Diets

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Koladorina via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Evidence in favor of feeding infants peanuts and eggs continues to accumulate. The latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, supports the idea that small, early doses of common food triggers can protect kids from developing allergies later on.

If this sounds counterintuitive, think about what allergies are: an overreaction by the immune system to an ordinarily harmless trigger. On their own, pollen, shellfish, and peanuts are completely harmless to the human body. But once the body decides that shrimp cocktail or a Snickers bar is a threat, they may as well be poison. Allergies can be treated; they can’t be cured. So ideally, we’d be able to prevent them from arising in the first place.

To do that, we’d need to toughen up our immune systems by telling them that common triggers are not going to hurt us. And to do that, scientists say, we need exposure to these triggers in small doses at a young age. This practice seems to work for dog allergies—but does it work for deadlier food allergies?

Scientists have conducted lots and lots of experiments to find out. That’s how science works: One study alone is not enough to confirm a hypothesis. You need a bunch of them, all supporting each other’s results.

So a team of researchers decided to take a look at these food allergen studies and assess whether or not they agreed with one another. They found more than 200 journal articles describing 146 experiments conducted between 1946 and 2016 on early introduction of common food triggers, including peanuts, eggs, gluten, and fish.

Analysis of these studies found that they did indeed support the concept of introducing certain foods early on. The evidence was strongest in favor of peanuts and eggs and limited on fish. The data also suggested that giving healthy young kids small doses of gluten was safe and would not lead to celiac disease down the road.

These findings are not earth-shattering, but they are encouraging, especially since pediatricians in several countries have already begun to encourage parents to give eggs and peanuts to their babies. This is a reversal of earlier recommendations, which warned against any exposure to potential allergens. The most recent infant feeding guidelines from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases both say that small doses of allergens are a safe and effective way to help keep kids allergy-free.

Keep in mind that these latest recommendations are not the final word. The studies on which they’re based are not perfect. The ideal scientific experiment is “blind”—that is, participants don’t know if they’re in the experimental or control group. But it’s pretty hard to blind an experiment that involves people feeding their children. The participants will be very aware of what their kids are eating (as they should be), which could affect both their behavior and the study’s eventual outcome. To be completely certain, researchers say, we need, well, more research.

Also (and we probably don’t have to tell you this, but just in case): Talk to your pediatrician before making any decisions about your kids and allergy triggers.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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