Childhood allergies are on the rise and it seems no one knows why. On 16th May The Age newspaper reported that allergies were rising at a rate of 20% per year in Australia. Hitherto innocuous foods in a normal healthy diet, like apples and celery, are now causing allergic reactions in some babies and children. So, what do we know?
The developed world has been very successful at removing bacteria and viruses from its environment. There is a theory that suggests our sophisticated immune systems, with nothing much to do these days, are now easily trigged to react to things that are not actually a threat to us. Many researchers say there is no evidence for this. However, as we mentioned in an earlier blog, Get your baby off to a pure start to life, there is some very interesting and promising research being done in this area that might show there is a basis for the theory.
The first tactic to reduce the risk of allergic disease was to remove allergens, like peanuts etc, from the diet of young children. Unfortunately there is very little evidence, despite decades of research, that this approach has any significant benefits. Furthermore, rates of peanut allergy are very low in those counties like Indonesia or Israel where peanut consumption in pregnancy and very early childhood is unrestricted.
A long-term study is underway to test if “allergenic foods” given to children from weaning will help prevent allergenic disease. Those findings will not be available for another year or so.
So what of additives? It seems that fish oil is one of the ingredients that are in almost everything these days. We know the anti-inflammatory effects of omega3 poly-unsaturated fatty acid are well recognised. However, postnatal intervention studies using fish oil have so far failed to reduce the development of allergic diseases. Preliminary results from an ongoing “infant fish oils study” also suggest no benefit. Daily supplementation of fish oil from birth to 6 months has no observed improvement on early allergic outcomes at 12 months compared with a placebo group.
Note, omega-3 has other benefits and is recognised as an essential fatty acid in the diet of children and adults.
It appears that the avoidance of allergenic foods and the addition of supplements in childhood does not hold a simple answer. Perhaps the solution lies in pregnancy? In part 2 of this article we’ll look at what research is uncovering there.
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The information in this article was sourced from a paper whose abstract is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22189254