Food allergies in young children are becoming more common. In my practice, expat families seem to have more problems with this, but food allergies are also becoming more common in Thai children as well. In the US, food allergies affect 1 in 13 children and up to 40% of children have had life-threatening or severe reactions. The onset of food allergies is typically during childhood and most often the allergy or reaction occurs with the first known exposure. Food allergies can be complicated to manage from a medical perspective and very challenging for both parents and their children. The reasons behind the rapid rise of food allergies are not well understood, but research suggests that earlier advice to mothers to wait to introduce “high allergy” foods such as nuts, eggs, or shellfish, may have actually caused more allergies than they prevented. As with many things, preventing food allergies would be far better than trying to treat them.
A new study published in the Pediatrics Journal of the American Medical Association followed over 10,000 mothers and their infants from birth into their teen years. Mothers reported if their children had a physician-diagnosed food allergy during childhood. Of the group, more than 300 had food allergies with 140 who had a diagnosis of peanut or tree nut (cashews, almonds, pecans) allergy. The results highlighted the association that children born to mothers who consumed more peanuts and tree nuts during their pregnancy had lower rates of food allergies. The more peanuts a pregnant mother consumed, the lower the risk of peanut and tree nut allergy in her children. Moms with high consumption of nuts (more than 5 times a week) had the least children with allergies. The authors concluded that; “early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy… our data support the recent decisions to rescind recommendations that all mothers avoid Peanut and tree nuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding.” This is most likely because the growing fetus is exposed to the proteins from the food that her mother eats. Over time and before birth, this helps the baby’s immune system become familiar with, and tolerant of, foods that tend to cause allergies.
What about my baby’s food?
New recommendations encourage the introduction of a variety of foods, including nuts, eggs, shellfish, wheat, and soy, within the first year of life. The theory is that early introduction of the components of these foods allow a child’s developing immune system to create a tolerance to them, thus avoiding allergies to them later. I encourage you to introduce your baby to these foods one at a time and in small portions at first, to help build up a tolerance and not spark an allergy.