Mum's diet mirrors child's food allergies

by Martin Ince
Mum’s diet mirrors child’s food allergies
Credit: Janice Cullivan

A long-term study evaluating maternal diet's impact on food allergy in later life is expected to uncover causes of allergy in children.

About 20 million Europeans are subject to food allergies. Now scientists are looking at these allergies in new ways. It involves the in its work and pays special attention to the link between early diets and allergy in later life. Clare Mills, professor of allergy in the university's Institute of Inflammation and Repair, at the University of Manchester, UK, is the coordinator of iFAAM. This EU-funded research project follows in the footsteps of European research projects dating back for over a decade.

In particular, the conclusions from a long-term study of a cohort of young people, now six years old, who have been tracked from birth and whose diets and allergies have been recorded, are now in sight. "Our aim is to see the allergy outcomes of their diet in early life, and even before they were born, as we have information on their mothers' diets and on their weaning," Mills tells CommNet, "This work has been coordinated at the Charité in Berlin and involves 12,000 people in samples from Iceland to Greece."

Mills says that although the project has only been going for a year, this work is already producing interesting pointers. For example, a comparison between the UK and Israel shows that children in Israel typically eat nuts at an earlier age than in the UK. This suggests that such dietary habits may have a protective effect against nut allergies later on. "This means that the current advice that young children should avoid nuts may make things worse," she observes.

A particular focus for the project is the different effects of allergenic foods in different contexts. "Someone might react very differently to nuts in a cookie or in a chocolate dessert," says Mills. The project aims to produce risk models, which will enable food manufacturers to look at these issues, perhaps leading them to alter cleaning protocols in their factories.

In addition, project researchers are working with allergy patient groups. Mills tells CommNet: "Often people don't report allergies, but instead just cope with them. This means that we don't get to know about them. So we are working with patient groups, and setting up an online tool to allow people to record their allergy experiences."

One expert recognises the focus on is the right one. "There is reason to worry about maternal diet during breast feeding and pregnancy with regard to outcomes in children. The diet may alter the nutrients and proteins in breast milk and affect the immune system. Studies thus far mostly suggest that a 'healthy' diet is important," says Scott Sicherer, professor of paediatrics, allergy and immunology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, USA.

He adds that the food industry has a significant part to play, saying: "Proper labelling of food allergens is important for keeping persons with food allergies safe." But he cautions that it is not the whole story. "It is also important not to label foods overly cautiously. Rampant use of cautionary labels might, if used improperly, be overly limiting," Sicherer tells youris.com.

However, the link between early and maternal diet and the onset of allergy is not proven and no valuable biomarkers for allergy have yet been found, according to Karin Hoffmann-Sommergruber, associate professor in the department of pathophysiology and allergy research at Vienna Medical University, Austria. Allergy is a global health issue, with rising incidence in newly industrialising nations, she believes. It varies in nature from place to place, with rice more of a problem in Asia, peanuts in Europe and the US, and fish and seafood everywhere.

In addition, Hoffmann-Sommergruber pinpoints as a key issue that the European food industry has yet to tackle. She concludes: " food industry has to set up a risk assessment and risk management plan in compliance with the current allergen labelling legislation."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pregnant women need not avoid peanuts, evidence shows

Dec 23, 2013

Women need not fear that eating peanuts during pregnancy could cause their child to develop a peanut allergy, according to a new study from Boston Children's Hospital published online Dec. 23 in JAMA Pediatrics.

As one food allergy resolves, another may develop

Mar 02, 2014

Some children who outgrow one type of food allergy may then develop another type of allergy, more severe and more persistent, to the same food. A new study by pediatric allergy experts suggests that health care providers ...

Recommended for you

Study unlocks basis of key immune protein's two-faced role

Nov 26, 2014

A Brigham and Women's Hospital-led team has identified a long sought-after partner for a key immune protein, called TIM-3, that helps explain its two-faced role in the immune system—sometimes dampening it, other times stimulating ...

Profilin can induce severe food-allergic reactions

Nov 25, 2014

(HealthDay)—Profilins are complete food allergens in food-allergic patient populations that are exposed to high levels of grass pollen, according to a study published in the December issue of Allergy.

Structured education program beneficial for anaphylaxis

Nov 21, 2014

(HealthDay)—A structured education intervention improves knowledge and emergency management for patients at risk for anaphylaxis and their caregivers, according to a study published online Nov. 19 in Allergy.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.