Are allergies on the rise?
Australia has one of the highest rates of allergic diseases in the world1. Recent increases in the incidence of allergies over the last 25 years may be described as an “epidemic”. It is due to this increase that allergy is now classified as a major public health problem in the developed world1.
There is currently not a concrete understanding of why allergy rates have increased so greatly in recent times, particularly in children. Potential reasons include a Western lifestyle, physical environment, and genetic predisposition, however it is likely that allergies occur due to an interplay of these factors1.
The following risk factors are starting to emerge from studies1:
- Development of food allergy due to skin exposure to allergens (e.g. use of nut oil based moisturisers in infants with eczema)
- Filaggrin (a filament aggregating protein) loss of function gene mutations
- Delayed introduction of allergenic foods (e.g. egg and peanut)
There are also other proposed risk factors, which have not yet been confirmed in studies1:
- The hygiene hypothesis: this is a theory that proposes that children who have less exposure to infections in their infancy will have an increased risk of allergy.
- Methods of food processing (e.g. roasting peanuts as opposed to boiling them)
- Vitamin D deficiency (this has been linked to a higher risk of developing allergic diseases)
- Socio-economic status: having a “Western lifestyle” or living in cities versus rural areas
There are many studies that have explored allergy prevention, however to date there are no concrete conclusions on how to achieve this1.
The following infant feeding advice is currently provided by ASCIA1:
- Breastfeed for at least 6 months
- Continue to breastfeed whilst introducing solid foods from 4-6 months when the infant is ready
- Do not smoke during pregnancy
- Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke in the home
- There is no evidence that restricting a mother’s diet during pregnancy or during breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing food allergy. Such restrictions can adversely affect growth in babies and is not recommended.
1 National Allergy Strategy 2017. Improving the health and quality of life of Australians with allergic disease.
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CHCANZ.CFEX.19.04.0434b May 2019