Currently, no one knows exactly what is causing children today to have so many food allergies. There are many theories, and I’ll cover several below.
What is genetically modified food? Genetically modified crops (also known as GMOs) were introduced in the US in 1994. These crops are genetically modified to make them grow faster, bear more fruit or create their own insecticide. In simple terms, genetic engineering (GE) is the process of taking genes from one strain of a plant, animal, or virus and inserting them into another, with the goal of reproducing characteristics of the original species in the receiving species.
Genetically engineered plants were approved for patenting in 1985, and genetically engineered mice in 1988. However, it wasn’t until the next decade that the first GE/GMO foods found their way to U.S. supermarket shelves. In 1994, Chicago consumers became some of the first in the nation to have Flavr Savr tomatoes in their produce isles.
There are some research studies that have linked genetically modified foods with allergic lung damage in mice and the creation of antibodies specific to a food protein. At present, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t mandate pre-market safety tests. However, it does review companies’ voluntary GE/GMO toxicology, nutrition, and allergenicity testing results. So a soybean can’t be genetically modified to include the protein of a peanut, yet there are many ways the soybean is currently being modified. A gene was added to selected soybean varieties that make them virtually immune to damage by Roundup herbicide, which will kill most other plants. Of course, we the consumers are then eating this modified soybean.
How good is that for human immune systems? No one really knows because no human trials are required. I suppose the massive human trial has actually been occurring since 1994 when those Flavr Savr Tomatoes hit the market. It’s interesting to note that peanut allergies doubled between the dates of 1997 and 2002 – could the genetically modified foods have something to do with this increase? Could mothers be eating more of these foods, thus changing their immune systems and thereby their yet to be born children?
I know the more I read about genetically modified foods, the more I want to eat REAL organic food. Look at a label of prepackaged food today and you’ll have a difficult time finding a real food. High fructose corn syrup – probably from a genetically modified corn crop – is one ingredient that you’ll likely find.
On January 28, 2007, The New York Times Magazine’s lead article “The Age of Nutritionism” discussed “how scientists have ruined the way we eat.” Their suggestion was to eat what our great-great-grandparents would have recognized as food! Scientists have found ways to create waffles with Omega-3’s in them, however no one knows whether you’re really getting the quality of Omega-3’s that you would get by just eating fish. Chances are something got altered in the science. Eating the original food provides an entire system of nutrients that may need to act and react together for you to get the advantage of the nutrient. Isolating a protein or a nutrient probably doesn’t give us the same end result.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70 percent and 75 percent of all processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants. Breads, cereal, frozen pizzas, hot dogs and soda are just a few of them. If your family is eating any processed foods, it is highly likely that you are eating genetically modified foods. The most common genetically engineered crops in the US are corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. There is also a genetically engineered hormone, BGH, which is commonly injected into dairy cows in the United States.
Food and Drug Administration
There is no long-term safety testing of genetically engineered food. Short-term animal feeding trials are conducted in some cases. The research is done by the biotech companies themselves. No evidence from human trials for either toxicity or allergy testing is required. No independent checks of the company’s claims are required. Yet, how are we the consumers to know that the food we are eating is REALLY safe? For those of us with food allergic children, are we further injuring our kid’s immune systems by eating genetically modified foods? I don’t yet have answers to those questions.
Three federal agencies are involved in the approval process of genetically modified foods in the US: the United States Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration. In the United States, the regulatory process is confused because of these three different government agencies that have jurisdiction. To put it very simply, the EPA evaluates GM plants for environmental safety, the USDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to grow, and the FDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to eat.
The EPA is responsible for regulating substances such as pesticides or toxins that may cause harm to the environment. GM crops such as B.t. pesticide-laced corn or herbicide-tolerant crops (but not foods modified for their nutritional value) fall under the purview of the EPA. The USDA is responsible for GM crops that do not fall under the umbrella of the EPA such as drought-tolerant or disease-tolerant crops, crops grown for animal feeds, or whole fruits, vegetables and grains for human consumption.
The FDA historically has been concerned with pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food products and additives, not whole foods. Under current guidelines, a genetically-modified ear of corn sold at a produce stand is not regulated by the FDA because it is a whole food, but a box of cornflakes is regulated because it is a food product. The FDA’s stance is that GM foods are substantially equivalent to unmodified, “natural” foods, and therefore not subject to FDA regulation.
In 1992, the US Food and Drug Administration published a policy statement on genetically engineered foods, which stated that it “is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” The FDA’s stance on genetically modified foods is obviously different from what you will read by organic farmers!
“The FDA has no information that the use of biotechnology creates a class of food that is different in quality, safety or any other attribute from food developed using conventional breeding techniques,” says James Maryanski, Ph.D., the FDA’s food biotechnology coordinator. He adds that disclosure of genetic engineering techniques is not required on the label, just as identification of conventional breeding techniques is not required–for example, “hybrid corn” can just be called “corn.”
Any significant differences between the bioengineered food and its conventional counterpart do have to be disclosed in labeling. These would include differences in nutritional properties, the presence of an allergen (one of the top 8 food allergens) that consumers would not expect in the food, or any property that would require different handling, storage, cooking or preservation. For example, when a manufacturer produced a line of soybeans whose oil had higher levels of oleic acid than found in conventional soybean oil, the FDA agreed to name the product “high-oleic soybean oil” to distinguish it from traditional soybean oil. The high-oleic oil can be used in frying without the need for the chemical process of hydrogenation, which produces trans fat.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced that would require FDA to oversee mandatory labeling of GMO foods; however, none have made it through Congress. On May 3, 2000, the White House called upon FDA to develop guidelines for voluntary labeling (e.g., whether food products do or do not contain GE/GM ingredients). A lawsuit filed in June of 2006 seeks to force the U.S. government to conduct mandatory reviews of genetically engineered foods and require labeling of such foods once they are approved. The Center for Food Safety’s (CFS) suit against the Food and Drug Administration comes after years of lobbying by environmental and consumer groups for more stringent regulation and labeling of biotech crops. Genetically modified crops, such as soybeans, corn, and canola, are grown widely throughout the United States, and the world leader in development and marketing of the gene-altered crops is Monsanto. Yet the United States requires no independent testing of these crops or the food products they are used in, does not mandate what data companies must submit for review, and does not require that foods that contain biotech crops be labeled.
At various times over the last several years, different scientists, including some within the FDA, have warned that altering the genetic makeup of a food plant by inserting genes from one organism into another could trigger unexpected food allergies, create toxins in food, or spread antibiotic-resistant disease. CFS said the tests that exposed that potential hazard have not been conducted on any of the genetically modified foods currently marketed.
James Maryanski, Ph.D., the FDA’s food biotechnology coordinator states, “Scientists and farmers have been genetically modifying plants for hundreds of years.” Hybrid corn and tangelos (hybrid of a tangerine and grapefruit), for example, are the result of genetic modification through traditional methods of plant breeding. And the many varieties of apples we eat today were produced through genetic modification.
FDA biochemical engineer Tong-Jen Fu, Ph.D., is analyzing methods currently used by scientists to determine the allergenic potential of new proteins that may be introduced in food. “The only way people can avoid allergic reactions to food is to avoid eating those offending foods,” says Fu. “But we know that there is some possibility that a new protein in food may be an allergen for some individuals. So it is important to have sound scientific methods for assessing whether a new protein will be an allergen.”
Fu is analyzing a current test that assumes a correlation between digestive stability and allergenic potential. Using simulated gastric and intestinal fluids, she has found that this correlation isn’t always present. Fu’s work is improving the FDA’s knowledge about proteins and their likelihood of being allergens, which ultimately will help agency regulators determine if a food is safe.
At present, there is no evidence to suggest that GM foods are unsafe. However, there are no absolute guarantees, either. Unintended health impacts from GMOs concern allergens, antibiotic resistance, decreased nutrients, and toxins.
The British Medical Association states: “Antibiotic resistance, the threat of new allergic reactions and the unknown hazards of transgenic DNA mean that on health grounds alone the impact of GMO’s must be fully assessed before they are released. The environmental implications and the long term effects on human health cannot be safely predicted at this stage and caution must therefore prevail.
Some of the disconcerting research studies on genetically modified foods involved mice.
A decade-long project to develop genetically modified peas with built-in pest-resistance has been abandoned after tests showed they caused allergic lung damage in mice.
The researchers – at Australia’s national research organization, CSIRO – took the gene for a protein capable of killing pea weevil pests from the common bean and transferred it into the pea. When extracted from the bean, this protein does not cause an allergic reaction in mice or people.
But the team found that when the protein is expressed in the pea, its structure is subtly different from the original in the bean. They think this structural change could be to blame for the unexpected immune effects seen in mice.
“The work underlines the need to evaluate new GM crops on a case-by-case basis,” says Paul Foster of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the immunological work. He also calls for improvements in screening requirements for genetically engineered plants, to ensure comprehensive tests are carried out.
Foster and his team then used mice to investigate whether eating the GM peas might have any undesirable immune impact. Generally, digested proteins do not create a specific immune system response. But researchers found that mice that ate transgenic pea seed did develop antibodies specific to the protein. Some of these mice were later exposed to the purified protein, either through injection into the blood, or by putting the protein into their airways.
The effect was the same whether the protein was taken from raw or cooked peas – so whether the protein was active or denatured. “To my knowledge, this is the first description of inducing experimental inflammation in mice” with a GM food, Foster says.
In the early 1990s, researchers engineered a more nutritious strain of soybean by adding a gene taken from brazil nuts. But the project ended when it was discovered that the hybrid was likely to trigger a major attack in people with brazil nut allergies. Thank goodness!
Another study using mice found that more than half of the offspring of rats fed on modified soy died in the first three weeks of life, six times as many as those born to mothers with normal diets. Six times as many were also severely underweight.
And as stated before, no human trials have occurred. So, can we assume that people could have the same issues as the mice? Possibly so; especially with a compromised immune system or in combination with other immune issues.
When the government approved food from cloned animals, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t plan special labels. Government scientists have found no difference between clones and conventional animals. I don’t plan on eating these foods, and would definitely want labeling to know whether an animal is cloned or not!
Shoppers won’t be entirely in the dark however. To help them sort through meat and dairy products, one signal is the round, green USDA organic seal, says Caren Wilcox, who heads the Organic Trade Association.
While many people choose organic to avoid pesticides or antibiotics, Wilcox says the U.S. Department of Agriculture label also means clone-free. “Organic animal products will not come from cloned animals,” she said.
So far, public opinion appears mixed. In a recent poll by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, 64 percent said they were uncomfortable with animal cloning. In another poll by the University of Maryland, the same percentage said they would buy, or consider buying, such food if the government said it was safe. So there are many opinions, and probably just as many opinions on genetically modified foods.
Some in Congress want to require labels on food from clones. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has introduced legislation to require this note on packages: “This product is from a cloned animal or its progeny.”
Mikulski and other critics disagree with FDA, which has said labels probably are unneeded because clones and their food are as safe as conventional versions.
“The FDA has gone astray, insisting that anytime they say a food is safe, consumers are obligated to eat it,” said Carol Tucker Foreman of Consumer Federation of America.
The Agriculture Department was asked to address cloning when the organic standards were written, a process that drew comments from more than 300,000 people and organizations. The standards, which took effect in 2002, do not mention clones or their offspring; instead, they say genetic engineering is not allowed.
FDA says cloning is a technology that helps animals reproduce, similar to in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. And in vitro fertilization is allowed under organic production rules.
I personally want the choice and therefore the knowledge of whether I’m eating a genetically modified food or cloned animal. From what I understand the UPC code of fruits and vegetables that are genetically modified will start with the numeral 8 and be 5 digits in length. Organic produce begins with the numeral 9 and again be 5 digits in length. All other conventional produce will be 4 digits in length. Something doesn’t sit right with me when I try to reconcile the number of children with food allergies today, and the advent of genetically modified foods. I believe there could be a link. There is no explanation of why food allergies and celiac disease is increasing at the phenomenal rates we’re seeing currently. I believe there are probably several factors at play, and genetically modified foods could certainly be one explanation.
Decide for yourself and do some online research. I feel better eating real food. With food allergies, it’s a lot easier to know everything in a food if I’m feeding my families fruits or vegetables. I think I’ll keep shopping at Whole Foods while the scientists and researchers figure out whether genetically modified food is safe or not for human consumption.
The Hygiene Hypothesis is basically the idea that we keep our houses and environment too clean, and therefore don’t give our immune systems something worthy to work on. So the immune system turns on itself, and creates the peanut protein, for example, to be the problem.
First proposed by David P. Strachan in an article published in the “British Medical Journal” (now BMJ), in 1989, the hygiene hypothesis was developed to explain the observation that hay fever and eczema, both allergic diseases, were less common in children from larger families, which were presumably exposed to more infectious agents through their siblings, than in children from families with only one child. The hygiene hypothesis has been extensively investigated by immunologists and epidemiologists and has become an important theoretical framework for the study of allergic disorders. Despite this, the infectious microorganisms believed to be responsible for these effects have yet to be identified and incorporated into medical practice and the contribution of hygiene levels to the rise of allergic disease has yet to be established.
Millions of people suffer from the sneezing and wheezing of allergies and asthma, diseases that have suddenly become epidemic in some parts of the world. Initially, scientists blamed increasing air pollution for the surge in respiratory diseases.
In the late 1990s, Dr. Erika Von Mutius, a health researcher, compared the rates of allergies and asthma in East and West Germany. Her hypothesis was that children growing up in the poorer, dirtier, and generally less healthful cities of East Germany would suffer more from allergy and asthma than youngsters in West Germany, with its cleaner and more modern environment.
When the two regions were reunified in 1999, von Mutius compared the disease rates. “What we found was exactly the opposite” of her hypothesis, she recalls. Children in the polluted areas of East Germany had lower allergic reactions and fewer cases of asthma than children in the West. What was going on? As sometimes happens to scientists, von Mutius was forced to abandon her original hypothesis and rethink the question based on her new observations.
For one thing, von Mutius realized, there are many lifestyle differences between the former two Germanys, including family size and the more prevalent use of daycare for young children in East Germany. Today, her new hypothesis, dubbed “The Hygiene Hypothesis,” is that children who are around numerous other children or animals early in life are exposed to more microbes, and their immune systems develop more tolerance for the irritants that cause asthma. According to this “hygiene hypothesis,” the human immune system evolved two types of biological defenses. When one defensive system lacks practice fighting bacteria and viruses, perhaps from an overly sanitary lifestyle, the other system becomes too powerful and overreacts — as an allergic reaction — to harmless substances like pollen.
“Medicine has a lot of history behind it related to why certain diseases are so widespread and certain diseases are not widespread,” said Subra Kugathasan, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Gastroenterology), who has made a study of developments in hygiene hypothesis research.
“The immune system is there for a reason, said Dr. Kugathasan.”It’s there to recognize ‘the bad guys.’ The immune system allows your body to kill those bad guys and allows you to survive. In order to harden the immune system, the immune system requests some kind of stimuli all the time.”
“The hygiene hypothesis suggests that the more hygienic one becomes, the more susceptible one is to various autoimmune diseases. The autoimmune diseases, the diseases that result from all the activation of your immune system, are increasing. The hygiene hypothesis – and we don’t yet have a proof of it – acknowledges that the maturation of the immune system needs some kind of hardening, some kind of resistance. Put another way, you cannot really build up good muscles without doing exercise.”
The common belief that has driven medicine, as well as public perception and hygiene practices, is that when we get sick it is because of something we ate, or inhaled, or were exposed to in other ways. The hygiene hypothesis points in a different direction, proposing that in many diseases it is a lack of exposure to the “bad guys” that causes harm.
While the evidence was by no means clear-cut, one study indicated that in some cases contact with certain pet dander in the home actually decreases a child’s risk of wheezing from asthma later in life. Other studies show that children who lived on farms when they were very young have reduced incidence of asthma, which has led several researchers to conclude that organisms in cattle dust and manure may be the stimuli that their immune systems needed to fight off asthma.
In another study, conducted by University of Iowa Division of Gastroenterology director Dr. Joel Weinstock, intestinal worms were shown to have a very dramatic effect on mice in offering protection from inflammatory bowel disease. This was followed up using whipworms from pigs, Trichura suis, in a small number of humans. The worms were selected because they are “safe,” as many pig farmers come in contact with them every day, they do not enter the human bloodstream, and they cannot live in the human intestine for more than a week.
All of the six patients who were given the worm treatment for their bowel disease eventually went from chronic illness to complete remission with no diarrhea, no abdominal pain and no joint problems. In very general terms, this small-scale test of the hygiene hypothesis worked because microorganisms from the worms positively affect the body’s immune response to bacteria and viruses.
“Think about countries in Africa like Gambia, a country that has been studied very well,” said Dr. Kugathasan. “Ninety to ninety-nine percent of people in Gambia have intestinal worms at some point in their lives. But the chronic immune diseases like asthma, Crohn’s disease, or multiple sclerosis are not heard of, never even mentioned in their life. They don’t know anything about such diseases in those countries. While one may argue that maybe their population is genetically not predisposed to these diseases, other factors appear to be in play.”
“What has happened now, with globalization and human migration, people move to areas that are very, very clean. Within one generation we have moved into a different environment. What we have been finding out is that in the second generation of Asian, Latin American and African children, where the first generation had been exposed to those kinds of parasites and early childhood infections, the second generation that has moved to ‘cleaner’ countries has not been exposed. The incidence of Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic asthma is as common in the second generation from the third world as in those with European or North American backgrounds, and in some cases even higher.”
Dr. Kugathasan and others interested in hygiene hypothesis have not proposed that “playing in the dirt,” or making society less hygienic in general, are useful goals in medicine. But they do propose that taking the impact of reduced immunological strength into account for certain diseases could be beneficial.
For example, researchers who are looking into the impact of microorganisms produced by cattle on asthma in children maintain that the more they learn about how cattle exposure relates to asthma, the closer they will come to developing an effective preventive treatment.
“Over the years, what’s happened with modern medicine is that we have become more aware of the disease process, so we are avoiding diseases by learning more about how they spread,” said Dr. Kugathasan. “We are becoming much cleaner and learning how to prevent many diseases by immunization. And we are isolating ourselves by not going into epidemic areas. Now we don’t even allow kids to play in the yard barefoot. Children playing in the dirt barefoot are exposed to a lot of microorganisms and worms and everything else, and that’s not happening the way it used to.”
“So the hygiene hypothesis doesn’t only apply to Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease,” Dr. Kugathasan says. “It applies to many other conditions. This doesn’t mean children should roll around in the dirt or necessarily change medical practice in the US. But to keep the immune system working properly, you need controlled stimulus or else it doesn’t know how to recognize the bad guys. Treatment is meant to suppress the system, while the hygiene hypothesis suggests that it doesn’t always hurt in the long run to give stimulus the other way around.”
It’s important that a child go through normal childhood illness, for example, notes Dr. Kugathasan. “When we visit the doctor to suppress a lot of things like colds, rather than, in effect, letting nature run its course, we’re making immediate treatment the priority rather than long-term prevention, using the analogy of immunological ‘muscle-building.’ We know that antibiotics wipe out normal cells, too, but you don’t want to destroy what medical science has accomplished. Maybe there’s no going back, but it’s important that we take what the hygiene hypothesis is telling us into account when treating our children.”
Researchers at National Jewish Medical and Research Center have gathered strong experimental support for the hygiene hypothesis. The research team in 2003, led by Richard Martin, M.D., found that early infection with the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae reduced a mouse’s subsequent response to allergens. Alternatively, mice exposed to allergens prior to infection, developed a stronger allergic response. The research team is reporting its results in the March 2003 issue of the journal Infection and Immunity.
“For the first time, we have shown that a bacterial infection can modify the allergic response,” said Dr. Martin, Vice Chair of the Department of Medicine at National Jewish. “Timing is everything, however. Our results suggest that M. pneumoniae, or a related pathogen, could help prevent asthma and other allergic diseases, but only if the infection occurs before a person is sensitized to an allergen.”
So far, however, most evidence both for and against the hygiene hypothesis has been indirect and observational. The National Jewish research team sought more direct evidence using a mouse model of asthma and the bacterium M. pneumoniae, a common cause of community-acquired pneumonia.
In their study, Martin and his colleagues inoculated mice with either the bacterium or with a saline solution. Then all the mice were made allergic to the egg protein ovalbumin. Two weeks later, the mice were then exposed to the ovalbumin again, and their allergic response was evaluated.
On several measures, the mice that had been infected showed a milder reaction to the ovalbumin than did the control mice. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness (a measure of the “twitchiness” of the airways of these asthma-prone mice), levels of the cytokine IL-4, and total white cell count in the airways were all lower in the previously infected mice than in mice that were not infected. Levels of gamma interferon, which is associated with a healthy non-allergic immune response, were higher in the previously infected mice.
When mice were first sensitized and exposed to ovalbumin, then infected with bacteria, they showed greater bronchial hyper responsiveness and airway inflammation than did control mice.
“Our results support the hygiene hypothesis,” said lead author Hong Wei Chu, M.D. “Although mice are clearly different from humans, this kind of data, generated in a controlled experiment, adds important new evidence to help evaluate the hygiene hypothesis.”
For me, the jury is still out on this hypothesis. I grew up in a home with dogs, and shouldn’t be allergic to them since I was exposed early on. Yet, I am terribly allergic to dogs, and always was. Maybe genetics play a larger role than hygiene!
Increased childhood vaccinations being a causal factor of food allergies are along the same line of thinking as the hygiene hypothesis. The immune system doesn’t spend its time fighting off mumps or measles, and instead views the peanut or the egg as an invader. In a May 18, 2005 CNN article, Dr. Robert Woods of Johns Hopkins University stated, “The more your immune system is kept busy by exposure to germs and infections early in life, the less time it can devote to things like allergy.”
The issue with vaccinations is multi-faceted. There is the question of thimerasol being an ingredient in vaccinations some years ago and possibly even today; there are also the multiple vaccinations that children receive, and today many of those vaccinations are received in a 5-in-1 dose rather than spread out over several months or years.
Chicken pox was previously a disease that every child got eventually in life and had stories to tell about the bumps! Now there is a vaccine for it. It was rare for there to be a death from chicken pox, yet the lost work days for parents required to stay home with a sick child was sufficient for the vaccine to take hold in the childhood vaccine schedule.
My daughter got the chicken pox the old-fashioned way; my son got the vaccine because our allergist felt that with his eczema chicken pox could be really miserable. Within hours after receiving the vaccination, he began vomiting every 15-30 minutes. He was so severely dehydrated that he landed in the emergency room for rehydration overnight. He continued to have dry heaves for 48 hours afterward. No one had a stomach virus near him, nor did any of us suffer from one after him. Our allergist stated that he had a reaction to the vaccination, and to this date we have yet to determine which ingredient caused the reaction.
Most children will not experience any reaction to their vaccinations yet their immune systems may be set up to react to peanut protein, for example, in the future. From some research I found, it appears that the advent of the Hib vaccine (Haemophilus influenza type B) in the early 1990’s in the USA and in 2001 in Sweden (and various dates in other countries) has created high rates of peanut allergy regardless of peanut consumption. In countries such as China and Indonesia, where large quantities of peanuts are eaten, but the Hib vaccine is not routinely given, peanut allergies are almost non-existent. Could there be a link between the Hib vaccine and peanut allergies?
There is also the additional factor that the Hib is generally given with the DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis & Tetanus) vaccine. In the February 2000 “Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics” a study was published on the effect of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination on allergies and allergy-related respiratory symptoms among children and adolescents in the US. The study concluded “The odds of having a history of asthma was twice as great among vaccinated subjects than among unvaccinated subjects. The odds of having any allergy-related respiratory symptom in the past 12 months was 63% greater among vaccinated subjects than unvaccinated subjects.”
Another study published in “Epidemiology” in 1997 followed 1265 children born in 1977 to determine if infant immunization is a risk factor for childhood asthma or allergy. The 23 children in the study who received no DPT and polio immunizations had no recorded asthma episodes or consultations for asthma or other allergic illness before the age of 10 years; in the immunized children, 23.1% had asthma episodes, 22.5% asthma consultations and 30% consultations for other allergic illness. Of course, other factors could be at play also. Yet, this study does make me question the possible link!
I received a paper written by a high school student, Devi Lockwood, entitled “Is there a Link Between Vaccinations and Peanut Allergies?” She quotes some very interesting statistics from the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommended childhood vaccination schedule for January – June 1996 included 15 immunizations for children under the age of 2 years. In 2006, the recommended vaccination schedule increased by almost 50%, with 22 immunizations for children under the age of 2. This doesn’t include the annual flu vaccine. Doctors continue to work on getting parents to have their children vaccinated to increase compliance rates.
Ms. Lockwood also sought to compare populations of people in the USA who have high vaccination rates and low vaccination rates to determine whether peanut allergies are in higher incidence in the high vaccination populations. It was fairly difficult for her to find a low vaccination population in the USA even with populations such as the Amish in Lancaster, PA as one of her groupings. Statistics for the Amish were inconclusive, yielding either a 28% vaccination rate from surveys or an 84% rate. Either is considerably lower than the 95%+ rate of the USA as a whole. She also looked at a population in Vashon, Washington which has historically low vaccination rates, and did show that the less a population is vaccinated, the less the prevalence of peanut allergies. For anyone who would like a copy of her research paper, please e-mail me at Nicole@AllergicChild.com and I’d be happy to forward it to you.
I have an appreciation for vaccinations and the fact that I don’t have to worry about my children swimming in a public pool during the summer and getting polio. We have decided to not get Morgan a booster shot of the new Dtap (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) shot because of his prior reaction to the chicken pox vaccine; and because his IgG testing for diphtheria and tetanus show adequate protection. It is a difficult decision, and one that we carefully researched with the help of our family physician and allergist.
I’m certainly not suggesting by this writing that anyone should consider ceasing getting their child vaccinated! At this time, there isn’t any proof in the research that vaccinations are causing food allergies. There have been some research studies questioning a causal link, and that’s enough for me to question what effect vaccinations may have on our children, especially those with an atopic family history.
There has been conflicting research in the past as to whether a mother’s diet during pregnancy or even breastfeeding causes food allergies. My own experience is that I ate everything I could get my hands on during pregnancy which of course included all of the top 8 food allergens. I ate the same diet with both of my pregnancies, and had one child with severe, life threatening food allergies, and one child without!
Breastfeeding is currently suggested as an exclusive source of nutrition for infants up to 6 months old, and it is known that food proteins can pass through breast milk. I did not breastfeed my daughter – now 18 and not severely food allergic – and I did breastfeed my son, Morgan, for 8 months, although not exclusively. I ate all the top allergens while breastfeeding also. Morgan showed signs of atopic disease from one month old when he had severe weeping eczema. At that time, in 1996, no doctor ever suggested that his eczema could be caused by what I was eating, so I kept eating peanut butter and shrimp and other highly allergenic foods. As he aged, it was clear that his diet affected his skin. If he ate eggs, his skin would break out in horrible eczema patches. I feel certain now that my breastfeeding diet was affecting his allergic responses, and increasing his reactions.
Recent research by Dr. Anne Desroches, an allergist based out of Ste. Justine Hospital in Montreal, Canada, shows eating peanuts during pregnancy quadruples the risk of allergy in a child. Her study also found that eating peanuts while breastfeeding doubles the risk of the toddler developing allergies.
“The recommendation to avoid peanuts during breastfeeding and pregnancy is for these parents who themselves have some kind of allergy — even if it’s not a food allergy,” said Dr. Desroches.
The recommendation is based on the preliminary results of her study involving 200 peanut allergic toddlers and questionnaires filled out by their mothers.
Claire Dufresne, from the Quebec Food Allergy Association, cautioned against making recommendations when the study results have not been reviewed or even published stating, “You have to be careful whenever you recommend to modify the diet during pregnancy because that may lead to growth retardation to the child or it may bring nutritional deficiencies.”
This study has different results than those of previous British studies indicating that modifying a mother’s diet during pregnancy has no effect on children having food allergies.
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending avoiding peanuts in the last trimester of pregnancy for those families with existing allergies – even hay fever. No follow up studies have been done to determine if this guideline has been followed or if any decrease in food allergies has been seen as a result.
In his book, “Understanding and Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies,” Dr. Scott Sicherer states, “To some extent, the jury is still out on whether maternal avoidance diets during breastfeeding have an effect on allergy outcomes.”
I have a peanut allergic friend who never ate peanuts while pregnant nor while breastfeeding, yet she has a child severely allergic to peanuts! Maybe that’s just genetics at work!
For now, the results from research are ambiguous. As more studies look at this question, we will hopefully know better whether a mother’s diet in pregnancy and during breastfeeding affects a child’s potential for food allergies.
The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) states that asthma and allergies affect 1 out of 4 Americans, or 60 million people. Further, they report that allergies have a genetic component. If only one parent has allergies of any type, chances are 1 in 3 that each child will have an allergy. If both parents have allergies, the chances increase to 7 in 10 that their children will have allergies. Dr. Scott Sicherer, in his book, “The Complete Peanut Allergy Handbook” also states that “there is a 7 percent risk, or about ten times higher risk than normal, for developing a peanut allergy if one sibling has a peanut allergy.”
Allergies can be passed from parent to child. Children may inherit the tendency to develop allergies if either parent or any family member suffers from eczema, asthma, or food allergies. The specific allergy is not inherited from the parents, merely the tendency to be allergic. If neither parent is allergic research suggests that there is still a 5-15% chance that the child will develop allergies.
Research has also shown the children who have a genetic predisposition to produce excess IgE are at least 8 times as likely to develop food allergy when delivered by cesarean section.
My son has a family tree of allergies that would certainly indicate that he was destined to have problems! I have food allergies myself, along with environmental and pet allergies; and I had eczema as a child. My father had asthma in childhood and hay fever throughout his adult years; my mother had hives from the cold and was a very ‘picky’ eater. I’ve learned that many times being a picky eater can be a protective device to ensure unsafe foods aren’t eaten. She never has had allergy testing, however I’m fairly sure she would test positive to many foods based upon strange reactions she’s had in the past! My husband had milk allergies as a child, which he outgrew. His mother had egg and shellfish allergies that she outgrew. The combination of all this creates a genetic family tree that would give researchers basis for their statistics!
I regularly hear from parents who have no food allergies themselves, and no one in the family has food allergies – yet their child does. So, genetics may be only a predisposition and certainly not the entire explanation of a cause of food allergy. You’d be surprised the information that you will receive if you question grandparents and your in-laws. I never knew that food allergies ran in my husband’s family until I questioned my mother-in-law. It’s worth the conversation, and you might gain more insight into your child’s allergies!
Overall, there is no definite answer as to why food allergies are increasing, and from whence they come. These are all just theories with various research to back them up, and other research to prove them false! If we can find a cause for food allergies, maybe a cure can also be found!