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Headlines Published on 14 December 2006

PUBLIC HEALTH
Title European experts point to diet, allergy link; call for wider research

A recent report by the EU-backed Network of Excellence GA2LEN, Global Allergy and Asthma European Network, highlights new suspected linkages between diet and allergies, particularly in children. Experts suggest that there has been a fundamental shift in European diets over the past twenty to forty years exposing children and adults alike to greater risks of allergies. Such findings by the nutrition network are indicators of the fresh research the network can contribute to this complex field.

Exclusive breastfeeding can protect children from allergies later in life. © Matt+
Exclusive breast-feeding can protect children from allergies later in life.
According to experts, fully one third of children and approximately half of the European population will be allergic to one thing or another by 2015. It is widely accepted that an unfortunate combination of hereditary and environmental factors contribute to the development of allergies and asthma. However, a sharp increase in the number of cases has lead researchers to believe that something more than genetics is at play.

In the paper “Nutrition and allergic disease”, published in Clinical and Experiment Allergy Reviews, twelve experts led by Prof. Philip Calder of the Institute of Human Nutrition, University of Southampton (UK) weigh in on possible explanations and areas that warrant further research.

They point to three changing factors in our diets they feel are the culprits of the rise in allergy and asthma cases across Europe: breast-feeding, early diet and probiotics. Exclusive breast-feeding, that is providing the infant with no other liquid or food other than breast milk, according to the research, is vital in reducing the subsequent development of allergies. Experts acknowledge that exclusive breast-feeding is not always possible and recommend hypoallergenic formula combined with avoidance of solid foods for such cases. They note that the longer term effects of breast-feeding require further investigation.

A second important strategy according to GA2LEN scientists is to eat lots of greens. Fruits and veggies are suspected to have a protective effect against developing health complications. Fruits and vegetables can be important sources of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E which may aid in avoiding allergies in later life.

Experts point also to the promising role probiotics and prebiotics can play in an infant’s diet. Probiotics and prebiotcs are dietary supplements given to people not for their dietary value, but in an effort to stimulate the immune system. A double blind, placebo-controlled study has recently shown that probiotics can help reduce the risk of atopic disease. But the key point of how our diets influence the development of our gut, especially in early life, requires further study and can help answer why we become allergic.

GA2LEN experts caution that more research is needed to understand the full effect diet may have on the development of allergies and asthma. They expect that extensive, cross-border research is required to confirm such preliminary findings and aid health officials and policy makers institute long term health initiatives. For their part, European public officials have heeded their call and made allergy research a top priority in FP7.







More information:

  • GA2LEN homepage
  • “Nutrition and allergic disease” Clinical and Experimental Allergy Reviews 6: 117-188, 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Food Quality and Safety on Europa






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