Preventing Childhood Allergies

Preventing Childhood Allergies
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What is responsible for the rising prevalence of atopic diseases, such as food allergies, asthma, hay fever, and eczema?

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The prevalence of so-called atopic diseases—food allergies, asthma, hay fever, eczema—appears to be increasing year by year, around the world. Doubling, tripling, even quadrupling. Here’s asthma rates over the years. Here’s hospitalizations for food allergies among American children over just a few years. What’s going on?

Well, we had a little new insight recently. Eczema—atopic dermatitis—is a red, itchy, bumpy rash that can develop into thick, scaly, or leathery lesions.

Researchers in Japan wondered if the Westernization of the Japanese diet could account for the dramatic rise in incidence. In the first study of its kind, they found that higher maternal intake of meat during pregnancy was significantly associated with an increased risk of both suspected and physician-diagnosed eczema. They suggest that “certain components of meat” may affect the fetal immune system. They thought maybe it was the saturated fat, but that didn’t pan out. Maybe it’s the cooked meat carcinogens? Bottom line; they don’t know what it could be about the meat.

They were surprised that fish did not reduce the incidence of the disease, given the anti-inflammatory nature of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. They suggest maybe it’s the mercury and dioxins that are accumulated in fish that might be counteracting the omega-3 advantages.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Care SMC / flickr

The prevalence of so-called atopic diseases—food allergies, asthma, hay fever, eczema—appears to be increasing year by year, around the world. Doubling, tripling, even quadrupling. Here’s asthma rates over the years. Here’s hospitalizations for food allergies among American children over just a few years. What’s going on?

Well, we had a little new insight recently. Eczema—atopic dermatitis—is a red, itchy, bumpy rash that can develop into thick, scaly, or leathery lesions.

Researchers in Japan wondered if the Westernization of the Japanese diet could account for the dramatic rise in incidence. In the first study of its kind, they found that higher maternal intake of meat during pregnancy was significantly associated with an increased risk of both suspected and physician-diagnosed eczema. They suggest that “certain components of meat” may affect the fetal immune system. They thought maybe it was the saturated fat, but that didn’t pan out. Maybe it’s the cooked meat carcinogens? Bottom line; they don’t know what it could be about the meat.

They were surprised that fish did not reduce the incidence of the disease, given the anti-inflammatory nature of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. They suggest maybe it’s the mercury and dioxins that are accumulated in fish that might be counteracting the omega-3 advantages.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Care SMC / flickr

Doctor's Note

Check out my other videos on allergies as well as my other videos on immune function.  

For additional context, check out my associated blog posts: Plant-Based Benefits Extend Beyond the Top KillersProtecting Our Babies From PollutantsPlant-Based Diets for PsoriasisSchoolchildren Should Drink More Water; and Mushrooms and Immunity.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

29 responses to “Preventing Childhood Allergies

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    1. Dear Dr. Greger,
      I’m a big fan of your book and all the interesting posts on dietary impact on our lives. In all your publications I haven’t found anything about studies on Hashimoto Thyroiditis and its reasons for dramatic increases in the last years .
      I would be very grateful if you could provide any answers.
      Thanks a lot

  1. I’ve been vegan for nearly 8 years yet my 9-month old recently had an allergic reaction  even though we hadn’t given him any new food (he got all-over skin spots for 3 days). Only possible culprit I can identify is gelatin I just discovered in some darn Gerber baby food I had mistakenly thought was vegan. Separately he got rough skin patches that may be very mild eczema. Any studies linking gelatin in particular to either condition? I’m so disappointed this is happening.

    1. jcchavez: I’m so sorry to hear about your 9-month old. I hope he has a full recovery.

      I don’t know if you keep on top of watching each daily video, so I thought I would point you to today’s video:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/throw-household-products-off-the-scent/
      This video talks about certain household products like cleaning products that can potentially cause allergies (or cancer?). So, maybe your baby’s problems can be traced to non-food sources. I don’t know of course. I’m just giving you another avenue of research.

      Good luck!

    2. HI we have had a similar issue trying to get to the root cause of my son’s eczema which seemed to flare up and disappear without any cause. I put him on a vegan version of “the eczema diet” (the authors provide options). He followed a simple starch based diet with limited fruit and vegetables for a short time. His skin cleared within 3 days, after a week of clear skin we started reintroducing foods one at a time. Oranges, corn and raspberries were all triggers for him. Once we had simplified his diet we could clearly see what happened as we reintroduced him to his normal diet one food at a time. When he had a slice of orange we saw a hot, red rash within 2 hours. Raspberries resulted in a face rash within 20 minutes.

      It was well worth it for us to find out those few triggers which could actually be a nice healthy food.

      The author of the book also mentions that there is good news – which is that people do often seem to grow out of some of these sensitivities and after healing the skin you may be able to reintroduce some of these foods without an issue in the future.

      We do try to provide organic foods but that doesn’t seem to be a major factor in comparison to him having these actual trigger foods. Other recommendations I’ve come across include checking your cleaning solutions, especially soaps, clothes washing and dishwashing detergents. (Our dishwashing detergent was a lovely natural organic product that contained citrus so we had to swap because citrus was a strong trigger for him. We also invested in a humidifier as we personally live in a very air conditioned environment but again this wasn’t a major factor in our case and doesn’t improve his skin but may be helpful for some people.

      Good luck with your efforts.

      1. Oh I forgot to say that if he is still breastfeeding then what mum eats can also be a major factor so while he might not have had new foods if mum did then so did he.

    1. I was surprised to find so few articles published in the human medical literature on hempseeds, but maybe I shouldn’t be given the lack of much of an industry lobby and the stigma attached to the plant. Only 4 popped up in a pubmed search (excluding articles written by a “Dr. Ian D. Hempseed.”). The latest (available full-text) was a double-blind placebo-controlled comparison of fish, flax and hempseed oil supplementation that lasted 3 months and found no significant effects of any of them on lipid profile, LDL oxidation or measures of inflammation. This result is similar to what was found in my video Is Distilled Fish Oil Toxin-Free? Before that a study comparing daily tablespoons of flaxseed to hempseed oil similarly didn’t find much effect. The third was the study you cited, which found that 2 daily tablespoons of hempseed oil improved atopic dermatitis (an itchy skin rash) better than the same amount of olive oil. The researchers suggest it may be because of the gamma linoleic acid content of hempseeds, an omega 6 fatty acid that paradoxically appears to have an overall anti-inflammatory effect. Instead of downing the oil, as always I’d suggest eating the whole food–hempseeds–directly (same with flaxseeds, see my video Just the Flax Ma’am). And the final study, “Anaphylaxis to ingestion of hempseed” soundly debunks the wikipedia claim that “In fact, there are no known allergies to hemp foods.”

  2. Based on comment in this video fish isn’t safe to consume because it comes with mercury, toxins and what not.  Does this pertain to both farmed and wild fish of any kind?  F.e. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site says Alaskan wild salmon is “OK” to eat…  Is it not OK?

    1.  I would not eat fish or shellfish. Of course some fish contain less mercury, arsenic, dioxins, pesticides, endocrine disrupters than others but they all contain cholesterol and saturated fat. Even the Alaskan Salmon contain contaminants… remember everything that we flush or dump into our rivers ends up in the oceans where it circulates. As a physician if I recommend supplemental EPA/DHA to a patient I always recommend a plant based option see http://nutritionfacts.org/video/algae-based-dha-vs-flax-2/ (Algae-Based DHA vs. Flax). In addition to improved human health the health of our oceans ecosystems also benefit from a reduction in the number of fish caught and of course the fish appreciate it.

  3. International congress on Allergy in Berlin (2006) unanimously validated a fact established in the 70s by French doctor André Gernez. According to this “hygiene theory”, the rise in asthma and allergies is a consequence of birth in modern countries occuring 99% in hospitals. If you cover the eyes of a newborn mouse for only a few hours, it remains blind for life. The same *concept* applies to human organogenesis: the immune system’s recognition and tolerance to foreign entities (dust, blood of a different group, etc…) is possible in newborns but is short-lived. The longer newborns spend in hospitals or in cities and artificially clean environments, the higher the incidence of asthma/allergies. Like every function in organogenesis, if it is sollicited with the right timing, it end up being permanently sealed and fixed for life. Asthma and allergies are primarily a matter of being rapidly exposed a variety of potential allergens immediately to shortly after birth. Statistics or rural vs urban rates of allergy/asthma confirm this, and the length of stay in hospitals after birth is correlated with a higher incidence of allergy/asthma.

  4. I would really appreciate your advice/direction regarding my 5yo daughter. She has a raw egg allergy and the paediatrician has advised that if I feed her cooked egg on a regular basis it is likely she will grow out of the allergy. He has also warned if I don’t do this, there is a chance she could (at any stage) have an anaphalactic reaction if accidentally exposed to raw egg. I’m trying to research the evidence of these claims so I can make the best informed decision for my child- but its hard. I would be so grateful for any advice or further reading you could recommend to help me with my investigation.

  5. Hi everyone, does anyone on here have any experience of or knowledge about ‘Oral Allergy Syndrome’?

    I started off in life with milk and nut allergies (and bad hay fever). Although my milk allergy appears to have subsided over the years, my nut allergy has increase in severity and I now have to constantly carry epipens.

    About a year (or two) ago I started to develop unpleasant symptoms when eating vegetables.

    While I have always loved vegetables, I don’t eat any fruit, which until recently I had put down to the deep routed dislike I feel when thinking about eating any.

    As my issues with vegetables became more noticeable, I started to consider more carefully where my dislike of fruit stems from. It is apparent to me I have always experienced a unpleasant reaction when eating it. As a child I had no real idea about food allergies (apart from the fact I had to drink soya milk and avoid nuts) and I therefore just thought I didn’t like fruit. Upon reflection it was the reaction I experienced I didn’t like, not the fruit itself.

    I am now, at 26, left with reactions to both fruit and vegetables.

    I have been to my GP and two allergy teams who frankly are at a loss as to what is going on. Their latest diagnosis is that I have Oral Allergy Syndrome with some extended reaction in my gut/other areas of my body – but the mechanism for the latter part is unknown. The sum total of their advice was to avoid all offending foodstuffs and take antihistamines twice a day. They also suggested cooking all food thoroughly (while this does mitigate some of the initial reaction I have, it does not seem to affect the long term symptoms).

    Does anyone have any experience/advice they could offer me?

    1. Wow Andrew my sympathies for you, that doesn’t sound easy. I am afraid I’d have to suggest seeing a dietitian and working with your doctors. Have you been told you have an allergy or genetic defect that prevents you from eating fructose? Some folks have genes that make fructose dangerous. If you are aware of any allergies to certain foods then I too suggest avoiding. If cooking helps then great at least you have something on your side. Sorry I cannot help more I am just not certain or familiar with oral allergy syndrome if you want some dietitian recommendations let me know.

  6. Sounds like fiber (soluble especially?) and Vitamin A are important for young (mice at least) to avoid food allergies (peanut at least):

    Tan et al. Dietary fiber and bacterial SCFA enhance oral tolerance and protect against food allergy through diverse cellular pathways. Cell Reports, 2016 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.05.047

  7. Regarding allergies, the newest guidelines are to expose children at young ages to peanuts to avoid peanut allergies. Should parents who raise their children with a whole food plant based diet expose their children to a little milk, egg, meat as infants to avoid serious allergies later if they are exposed when out of the house (at school/a friends house/restaurant etc)?

  8. Hi
    My son has a number of non life threatening allergies and after genetic testing we have discovered that he has one of the two celiac genes switched on which is no surprise to us.
    We have been changing and monitoring his diet for 7 years- he is 9 now so he doesn’t really have great self control at school and often shares other kids food- much to my horror!
    He has thrived on a vegan diet that is grain free, legume, beans, nuts and starch free but as you can imagine it requires a LOT of consuming of fruit throughout the day and being at school this is impossible to sustain.
    In the last year he has been able to tolerate meat again so he has clean grass fed meat a few times a week. If we deviate and have a gf df everything free pizza, on a rice and tapioca base he has a major flare with dermatitis herpetiformis mood changes, sinus infections and mild fever for up to two weeks. He is currently sporting close to 40 of these lesions that he has had for 9 days now. It’s extremely hard to monitor this daily and so difficult for him to control himself. He has had microbiome transplants twice with great success overnight but the DH and sinus infections remain the most common issues.
    A lot of the dietary information on this site relates to vegan diest that are high in legumes, beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes which we cannot touch. Do you have any suggestions on studies that relate to dealing with or treating DH naturally and what non gluten containing foods could be triggering this and if he will be able to grow out of it with age?

  9. Elana,

    First I appreciate the hard road on your journey. You’re correct this site is focused on the WFPB diets and not intended to be a medical resource for those with DH.

    Some thoughts…… obviously avoidance of allergens although a real pain can be essential. Have you considered knowing the reality of your son’s exposures doing some form of desensitization therapy. Not the old time injections but rather the subliquil titration methods. You can find more information at: AAEM

    Additionally have you made certain to check his methylation pathways and do a MMA test as it would not be at all surprising to find a much lower B-12 level and also his digestive enzymes are probably equally as low. There are some simple approaches including: HCL capsules, non-gluten/non-dairy containing mixed plant enzymes that might be very helpful. You will find it’s a bit confusing in terms of the potencies and the many sources, however some experimentation might be in order. I have found in my practice that injectable B-12 (cyano for short term or methyl for longer term has made a difference is some of my patients DH fairly rapidly. Given the low potential for a worsening reaction, especially if non-preserved products are used, it would be a consideration at a low dose.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.CenterofHealth.com

  10. Thank you Dr Kadish for your reply.
    We haven’t tried what you suggest but will definitely look into these immediately.
    Last summer (Australia) we found being in the ocean as much as possible had an enormous impact on everything and helped so much. It was after this that he was able to finally tolerate eating meat and his sinus infections disappeared and the DH was very rare until both have come back with a vengence this month. It will be warm enough soon to do this again so fingers crossed it give more benefit. I suspect it is the microbes in the salt water as well as the vitamin D exposure. He has been drinking camel milk with great success too for the last 2 years and we stopped this 2 months ago as he had been doing so well I wanted to see if we could remove it.
    It’s an expensive addition to the diet at $25 for 1 litre. He has a dairy allergy but like the vast majority of people, can tolerate and get great benefits from the camel milk. Do you know of any clinical trials or research relating to camel milk and digestive diseases. I know it’s been used prolifically in many countries for this but I haven’t been able to find any substantial studies to support this.
    We really appreciate your advice and thank you again.

  11. My 14 month old just started getting tiny bumps on his thighs and upper arms, a few on the calves as well. After googling, I’ve realized it is Keratosis Pilaris. Isn’t this young to get this condition? And is there anything in diet that could be causing this? He eats a plant based Whole Foods diet. I nurse him twice a day still and I am vegetarian moving towards a whole foods plant based diet, but I still eat cheese about once a week and a little sugar a few times a week (I know, bad!). We do eat wheat and I’ve run across things online that say it could be the gluten, however your site seems to not support much harm from gluten. I am searching for answers if anyone has advice. I wonder if me eating a tiny bit of dairy is causing it since I’m still nursing? Or is it purely a genetic skin disorder? Thanks for any advice you can give!

  12. Hello Kayleigh,
    I am a family doctor with a private practice in lifestyle medicine and also a volunteer moderator for this website. It does sound like your toddler likely has keratosis pilaris. This is a common condition which occurs most often in children under age 2 and in teenagers. 14 months would be a common age to get this. It is caused by dead skin cells clogging the hair follicles. It is at least partially genetic.

    I don’t know if eating dairy products can cause keratosis pilaris. When I look in Pub Med — a free database of medical articles, I can’t find any articles linking “dairy” or “milk” to “keratosis pilaris”. However, Dr. Greger has done several videos on the acne-promoting effects of milk, probably due to the high estrogen content of cow milk, which over-stimulates the hair follicles:
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/national-dairy-council-on-acne-and-milk/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/skim-milk-and-acne/
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-acne-promoting-effects-of-milk/

    While acne is not the same as keratosis pilaris, there are similarities. So, I think you would be wise to cut out ALL dairy products for 2-3 weeks, and see what happens. If this doesn’t work, remember that this condition is not dangerous, and shouldn’t lead to any other problems.

    If you want to treat it, you can use a moisturizing skin lotion with an exfoliant such as urea (e.g. Eucerin Dry Skin Intensive 10% urea) or alpha hydroxy acid (e.g. AmLactin lotion). These help get rid of the excess dead skin cells that cause the problem.

    I’m sure you would rather prevent the condition than treat it, so I would first try eliminating dairy.

    I hope this helps.
    Dr. Jon
    PhysicianAssistedWellness.com
    Health Support Volunteer for NutritionFacts.org

    1. Thank you SO MUCH for replying. I need to make the change to cut out all dairy anyway so i guess this is my sign to go for it. It is tough but I know it’s not impossible. I will try to post a comment if cutting the dairy out seems to do the trick!

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