A leading medical team in Australia is investigating various solutions to help combat food allergies. Associate Professor Kirsten Perrett, Population Allergy Group Leader at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, believes vitamin D could significantly reduce food allergies. Her team is conducting a trial to determine if vitamin D supplementation in the first year of life leads to decreased food allergies. News.com.au reports that Perrett also believes introducing allergenic foods in the first year of life could be preventative and protective against the development of allergies.
In addition to these investigations, Perrett is one of the co-authors of a new book, the Allergy-Friendly Family Cookbook, which has expert advice from world-leading child allergy specialists and more than 100 recipes from Taste.com.au, Australia’s no.1 food site. The book aims to help families with food allergies regain control in the kitchen and assure them that their food is safe. The book is designed to assist busy parents to no longer have to cook multiple meals and allow the whole family to enjoy the same thing together.
In this article, let’s delve into the growing issue of food allergies and explore the new strategies being researched to combat this problem.
Prevalence of Food Allergies in Australia
Food allergies are a growing concern in Australia, affecting around 10% of infants. The five most common foods that cause allergic reactions are:
- Tree nuts
- Cow’s milk
These allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a normally harmless substance in the food, leading to symptoms ranging from mild hives to life-threatening anaphylaxis. Food allergy incidence has increased in Australia over the past three decades. Researchers are investigating various factors contributing to the rise, including environmental factors and modern lifestyles. There is a pressing need for a better understanding, prevention, and management of food allergies in Australia to improve the quality of life of those affected by these conditions.
Is it the Environment or Me?
One of the significant factors contributing to food allergies is environmental changes, such as:
- increased exposure to pollutants
- changes in farming practices
- climate change
Another factor is lifestyle choices, including changes in dietary habits and hygiene practices.
Exploring the Link Between Cleanliness and Allergies
The hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that the decreased exposure to microorganisms due to modern sanitation practices may contribute to the development of allergies, is also a possible contributing factor. Genetics, early childhood diet, and exposure to antibiotics and other medications may also play a role in the development of food allergies.
Risk Factors for Food Allergies
The 5Ds refer to the five primary risk factors associated with food allergies, which include:
The food a person eats is a significant factor in determining whether they will develop food allergies. Introducing allergenic foods like eggs and peanuts in a baby’s diet during the first year of life has been shown to reduce the risk of allergies later on. Contrary to popular belief, delaying the introduction of these foods can increase the risk of developing allergies. The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends introducing peanuts and eggs to infants between 4 and 11 months old, depending on their risk of allergy.
Additionally, a diet high in sugar and processed foods can contribute to developing food allergies.
People with dry skin are more susceptible to developing eczema, which is a risk factor for food allergies. Dry skin allows allergens to enter the body more quickly, leading to sensitisation and potential allergy development.
Vitamin D has been demonstrated to be essential for immune system development. A vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of allergies.
Exposure to dogs and other animals in early childhood has been associated with a reduced risk of allergies. It is believed that exposure to the bacteria carried by animals can help to train the immune system to recognise harmless substances and prevent the development of allergies.
Dribble, or saliva, can be a source of food allergens. When babies drool, they can come into contact with allergenic foods on their skin, clothing, or toys and then ingest them. This can lead to sensitisation and the development of allergies. Parents can help reduce the risk by wiping their baby’s face regularly and washing their hands after eating allergenic foods.
Preventing Allergies with Vitamin D
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s VITALITY Trial is one of the most significant studies on the role of vitamin D supplementation in allergy prevention. The trial in Australia followed infants who were given daily vitamin D supplements or a placebo from birth to 12 months old. The results showed that children who received vitamin D supplements had a lower risk of developing food allergies and eczema.
Food allergies have become increasingly prevalent in Australia, and identifying the contributing factors is crucial for prevention. The introduction of allergenic foods in a baby’s diet and vitamin D supplementation can help reduce the risk of allergies.
Moreover, understanding the potential contributing factors, preventive measures, and treatment options for food allergies is crucial for first aiders. With this knowledge, they can effectively respond to allergic reactions and provide prompt and appropriate care to those in need. CPR First Aid Australia RTO NO 21903 provides training for first aid practitioners, which offers courses on recognising and responding to anaphylaxis and other allergic reactions, emphasising the importance of prompt and effective intervention to save lives.