Food allergies are a rising concern especially among young children. They impact their quality of life and some reactions can even be life-threatening. Till now research seemed to say that avoiding an allergen is the best form of prevention. New studies shine a different light and suggest that introducing typical food allergens early in life may be a better solution.
Every primary school teacher’s nightmare – a child eating something they are allergic to and, within minutes, reactions ranging from a rash to severe breathing problems or even life-threatening anaphylaxis. Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t that uncommon. Food allergies impact over 6% of American children and it is a pretty serious health concern across the country. Food allergies are usually discovered in early childhood and some continue into adulthood. But did you know that just 8 food items cause 90% of food allergies? It’s highly likely that the allergic reaction is to one of these 8 foods – milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, nuts, fish, and shellfish.1 The concentration on these 8 foods throws up an interesting possibility. Can the incidence of allergy be reduced by early exposure to these food items?
Before we get to the new theory, let’s have a look at the current standpoint. Food allergies or an adverse reaction to food with cutaneous, gastrointestinal, or respiratory impact can be caused by the immune system or be non-immunologically triggered. Typically, protein allergies are immune system-driven and others are caused by enzymes, carriers, and other relatively unknown causes. So studies so far focused on and recommended strict elimination of the allergens as the best form of prevention.2
Does Starting Early Help?
Scientists in Canada set out to determine the relationship between feeding habits of infants and their sensitivity to certain foods. They collected data from 3 months age up to 24 months of age for the introduction of typical allergens like cow’s milk, peanuts, egg; exclusivity of mother’s milk up to 6 months; and overall diversity of food related to these allergens.3 The results were noteworthy and could be an important milestone in cracking the high incidence of food allergies. The team noted that while exclusive breastfeeding had no effect on egg and peanut allergy incidence, it definitely increased the risk of cow’s milk allergy. Similarly, early introduction of solid foods including egg and peanut reduced the risk of sensitivity of allergy related to these foods. This recent study could pave the way for a new approach to possibly sensitive foods – introduce them early rather than delay or avoid. This is important because food allergies do continue from childhood into adolescence.4 Most children eventually outgrow their food allergies (except if it is tree nuts), but this step could certainly help given them a better quality of life during their childhood.5
There is no one specific test for food allergies. So it is a laborious process of elimination till you are left with the possible allergen. With an alarmingly high rate of incidence, food allergy needs to be tackled head on. And perhaps tackling it very early by introducing common allergens to children is the best choice yet. Do remember though that this is a paradigm shift from how currently food allergies are treated. So make it a point to consult your doctor/pediatrician first regarding the best course of allergy treatment.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Food Allergen Labeling And Consumer Protection Act of 2004 Questions and Answers, FDA.|
|2.||↑||Høst, Arne, B. Koletzko, S. Dreborg, A. Muraro, U. Wahn, P. Aggett, J. L. Bresson et al. “Dietary products used in infants for treatment and prevention of food allergy. Joint Statement of the European Society for Paediatric Allergology and Clinical Immunology (ESPACI) Committee on Hypoallergenic Formulas and the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition.” Archives of Disease in Childhood 81, no. 1 (1999): 80-84.|
|3.||↑||Dai, W., Diana L. Lefebvre, Padmaja Subbarao, Allan B. Becker, Piushkumar J. Mandhane, Stuart E. Turvey, Wen-Yi Lou, Malcolm R. Sears, and M. M. Tran. “The Effects Of Infant Feeding Practices On Food Sensitization In A Canadian Birth Cohort.” In D31. NOVEL MECHANISMS OF ALLERGY AND AIRWAY INFLAMMATION, pp. A6694-A6694. American Thoracic Society, 2016.|
|4.||↑||Venter, Carina, Veeresh Patil, Jane Grundy, Gill Glasbey, Syed H. Arshad, and Taraneh Dean. “Prevalence of Sensitisation to Food and Aero-Allergens and Challenge Proven Food Allergy Amongst 11-Year-Old Children on the Isle of Wight.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 135, no. 2 (2015): AB38.|
|5.||↑||Moore, Louise, and Jackie Walters. “Food Allergies and Your Child.” (2009).|