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Study unravels risk factors of food allergies

Posted:  Friday, January 08, 2016

Interesting revelation on food allergies! Much research has been devoted to food hypersensitivity and the mechanisms underlying it. Now a new study provides insight on the prevalence of the two different types of food hypersensitivity and their risk factors.

Published in the journal Clinical and Translational Allergy, the study enrolled 1140 pregnant women from the UK and followed their children until two years of age. The study was part of a bigger research endeavour called the EuroPrevall project, which involved more than 9,000 babies from nine European countries.

Food hypersensitivity is a reaction to a food. The reaction is of two types, immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated and non-IgE mediated. Immediate symptoms such as skin rashes, vomiting, and respiratory difficulty characterise IgE mediated reactions. Non-IgE mediated reactions emerge around four to 28 hours after consuming the offending food and cause diarrhoea or constipation.

The researchers found that IgE mediated and non-IgE mediated reactions had different risk factors. Whereas eczema and rhinitis increased the risk of IgE mediated food allergy, pet ownership and the age of introducing solid foods to an infant were linked to the elevated risk of non-IgE mediated reactions.

Explaining the risk factors, Dr. Kate Grimshaw, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton and specialist paediatric dietitian at Southampton Children's Hospital said, "This study has offered us an interesting insight into what affects food allergies in children. Factors such as eczema and rhinitis are associated with food allergy, possibly due to a certain gene defect that prevents the skin barrier from forming correctly, leading to possible exposure of the immune system to allergens. Pet ownership may increase the likelihood of gut reactions to food, perhaps by altering the gut flora, which can affect how the digestive system works.

The study found that IgE mediated allergy was the culprit behind the reaction to egg and peanut in the vast majority of children. However, over half of the children who reacted to milk did not have an IgE mediated allergy.

The researchers found that a healthy diet affords protection against both types of reactions. This positive effect may be attributed to the presence of immune-boosting vitamins and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables.

The researchers emphasised that IgE mediated and non-IgE mediated reactions are separate conditions that must be treated differently. They also made it clear that blood tests can only diagnose IgE mediated food reactions and are of no value in identifying non IgE mediated food allergies.

The researchers plan to take the study further once the children attain school age to understand the course of the allergies that began in early childhood.

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