If yes, they could be better protected against food allergies

Melbourne, February 20: Food allergies in children, especially from nuts, has been on the rise in Australia and this is one issue which has been bothering scientists and researchers for quite some time. Perhaps, they have found some answers, if not all.

After a study of 57,000 children, Melbourne researchers now believe there is something in Australia’s environment which could be triggering the country’s high rate of child nut allergies.

The study by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the University of Melbourne found being born in Asia (and thus India) seemed to be protective because these children were exposed to a different diet, and bacterial and UV environment.

These findings could be crucial to find clues to the mystery that has seen Melbourne dubbed the food allergy capital of the world.

Of those 57,000 children studied, 5 per cent of parents reported their child had a food allergy and 3 per cent reported a nut allergy.

Food allergy

The study found that if children were born in Asia and then moved to Australia they are protected against food allergy.

Nut allergy
If the children were born in Asia but then moved to Australia they seem to be completely protected from the nut allergy.

According to Professor Katie Allen, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, this is an incredibly exciting finding. It shows there’s something in the environment that’s driving this allergic epidemic.

Tricky catch:

According to Professor Allen children of Asian (thus Indian descent) born in Australia were three times more likely to develop nut allergy than non-Asian infants, suggesting a heightened genetically-determined risk of food allergy.

“However, if the children were born in Asia but then moved to Australia they seem to be completely protected from the nut allergy, so zero percent,” she said.

But it needs to be highlighted that the way infants are fed food in the first few years of life, and the UV exposure or Vitamin D or sunshine exposure are also imporant factor to consider.

“So it’s probably to do with modern lifestyle; so bugs, food and sunshine”, Professor Allen added.

Ironically the anti-skin cancer message of “slip, slop, slap, wrap” had led to low rates of exposure to sunshine and this vitamin D across the community.

Unlike some countries in the northern hemisphere where infant food is supplemented with vitamin D, in Australia one of the few countries in the world where we neither fortify our food chain supply by adding vitamin D to milk and dairy products, nor do we supplement food in the first year of life of our infants.

Asian microbes ‘could provide allergy protection’

According to Professor Allen there were also “clear differences” in microbes found in Australia and Asia, which could give those born in Asia some protective effect against allergies.

The “hygiene hypothesis” was also possibly behind the disparity in the number of metropolitan Victorian children with nut allergies [3.4 per cent] and those reporting allergies in non-metropolitan areas [2.4 per cent], researchers found.

In medicine, the hygiene hypothesis is a hypothesis that states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms (such as the gut flora or probiotics), and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.

“Our urban environment with less diverse microbial exposure may contribute to the rise in allergies,” Professor Allen said.

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