Preventing Food Allergies from Developing in Babies, Children, and Adults

It may be too late for my children in some respect, but it seems there are more things that we now know about how food allergies develop that would have COMPLETELY changed the way we approached our kids’ diets at birth. If you’re concerned about your baby or child possibly developing allergies, below are some things you should absolutely consider. Actually, there are an increasing number of individuals who are developing allergies as adults, so it’s worth taking a read below even if you’re no spring chicken. 

Food Allergy Epidemic  

First, some statistics that I came across recently – according to Dr. Kari Nadeau, who is well-known in the food allergy treatment world:

  • 1 in 12 children in the US, Europe, China, Korea, and Japan have food allergies
  • 1 in 10 children in Australia
  • 1 in 10 adults had food allergies according to a recent survey of 40,000 adults. 50% weren’t aware of the allergies until they were adults.

I don’t have food allergies yet, but I’ve developed some environmental allergies as an adult. . . are food allergies on the way?

3 Food Allergy Prevention Strategies 

1. Avoid antibiotics and heartburn medications if at all possible –  they cause changes to your gut flora, which in turn, affects the way your body responds to food. 

This visual illustrates the theory of how modern life may be altering our body’s natural defenses

For all ages, studies have come out showing a link between the increased likelihood of food allergy and the use of antibiotics or heartburn medications. While the studies have shown correlation and not necessarily causation, it’s suspect enough to reconsider your next antibiotic or heartburn medication RX. If there are alternatives, why risk it? Until recently, I didn’t realize that there are a lot of things to try before resorting to antibiotics or heartburn medications, so do your research on alternatives.  Your doctor may or may not be aware of this information, let alone warn you of the possible issues when prescribing these medications. For further understanding:

2. Introduce potential food allergens early – don’t avoid them

Neither my husband nor I have any food allergies – just hay fever, so I didn’t consider that my kids were at high risk for food allergies. Yet both kids ended up with nut allergies (and underwent oral immunotherapy). We followed the accepted approach at the time of avoiding nut introduction until age 1. 

Studies over the last few years have reversed that recommendation and pediatricians now recommend introducing potential food allergens as early as possible. This is a pretty time-sensitive, age-sensitive recommendation, so don’t miss this window if you want to try it. These two articles from verywellhealth.com give a good introduction on the change in recommendations as well as guidelines for how to do this early introduction to food allergens as safely as possible during COVID-19 (when you may be tempted to hold off). They write specifically about peanut, but it’s the same idea for all food allergens:

Alas, it’s also clear that there is still confusion and the guidance you receive will depend on your pediatrician. This study by Contemporary Pediatrics found that pediatricians today are still not necessarily recommending the current guidelines. Regardless of what your doctors say, do your own research too, especially given the inconsistencies across medical professionals, and come to your own conclusion about what you want to do. 

3. Control eczema

The existence of food allergies has also been strongly linked to eczema, of which some forms are suspected to trigger food allergies. Researchers call this the “atopic march.” It’s described as a pattern, “in which eczema generally appears first, followed by food allergies, seasonal allergies, and asthma.” The link to eczema is so strong that the American Academy of Pediatrics first guideline  “recommends that the highest risk infants — those with severe eczema and/or egg allergy. . . — be introduced to peanut as early as 4-6 months of age, following successful feeding of other solid food(s) to ensure the infant is developmentally ready.”

For babies and children (and who knows, perhaps adults, too?), it appears particularly important to try and control eczema as best that you can to avoid the risk of further allergy development. This includes finding and avoiding the triggers for eczema as well as treating it topically. 

Both Western and traditional Chinese medicine have some strategies (listed extensively on the National Eczema Association website). In Western medicine, there are injections (like Dupixent), topical creams, and washes. In TCM, I’ve heard about herbal pastes that are applied topically as well as herbal medicines to alter the body’s reaction to triggers. I’ve read on the Facebook group for Dr. Xiu Li Min (an expert on integrated East/West approach to food allergies) that she believes part of the food allergy treatment involves addressing the severe skin issues first (which she has done with apparent success through Chinese herbs) before tackling the food allergy.

Resources

Antibiotics linked to development of food allergies

Heartburn medications linked to development of food allergies

The latest in food allergy prevention

Developing food allergies as adults

Eczema and food allergies

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