Food Allergy Awareness Week was created with the purpose of placing a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies. (1) In Australia, the issue is extremely relevant, as the prevalence of food allergies, the anaphylaxis rate, and the fatal anaphylaxis rate are among the highest in the world. (2) The burden often falls on parents and carers, since food allergies are higher for infants and preschool children. (3)
We’ll give you a rundown of 3 different theories at the forefront of current research, that may provide insight into understanding the cause and developing strategies for the prevention of food allergy. (3)
More, rather than less, microbial exposure could be the key to developing oral tolerance to potential food allergens. (3) Several studies have shown the protective influence of early-life microbial exposure to pathogens, microbes and infections. Children with older siblings and those with pet dogs in the home appear to be better protected against developing food allergies. (4)
On the other hand, being too hygienic can be a detriment. Research reports rinsing infant pacifiers in tap or boiling water or using antiseptics to clean them increases risk of developing childhood allergic diseases. A reduced risk coincided when parents cleaned infant pacifiers by sucking on them. (4)
The take-home message: Accept that your child will be exposed to microbes and infections in the early years and understand this may actually have benefits to a developing immune system.
Vitamin D hypothesis
Paediatric food allergy is more prevalent in regions further from the equator, suggesting that low vitamin D levels may play a role. One Australian study showed that vitamin D insufficiency was found to be associated with food allergy at 12 months of age. (3)
To add to this, infants with vitamin D insufficiency were more likely to have multiple food allergies than a single food allergy in a study with Australian-born parents. (5)
The take-home message: Safe sunlight exposure could play a role in preventing food allergies in infants. Always seek professional advice before considering supplementation of Vitamin D in infants and children.
Since allergen exposure can happen through the skin, sensitisation to foods may occur through a damaged or weakened skin barrier. Approximately 50% of children with eczema could develop food allergies by 1 year of age. (3) Interestingly for newborns, a permeable skin barrier on day two of life is associated with food sensitisation and allergy at 2 years of age. (3) Great care should be taken with products used for damaged skin since applying peanut-oil based emollient to inflamed skin was associated with peanut allergy in children. (3)
The take-home message: Delay bathing your newborn baby for several days after birth to give them the best chance at a healthy skin barrier. When your child is older, use low allergenic natural products on the skin and avoid applying food-based ingredients such as paw paw ointment or oils containing tree nuts like macadamia oil until your child is older.
Finding a way Forward
With no cure for food allergy, natural medicine has its place. Prebiotics and probiotics are showing real promise in the research, with both found to prevent and treat food allergies via the modulation of gut microbiota and the immune system. (6) Reducing the severity of symptoms, and providing dietary strategies to promote nutritional adequacy when allergic food is being avoided are ways our team can assist with the stress and uncertainty of food allergies in children.
Whether you’re a parent of young children with food allergies or hoping to prevent this issue, it helps to keep up to date with the latest strategies – especially strategies that encourage getting a puppy!