Recent generations have had a higher prevalence of allergies than any before. Because of this, the story on how to prevent your kids from getting allergies has changed quite a few times. It can be pretty confusing to find the facts. You really need to check the date of your source. If it’s not before the year 2015, chances are, it’s outdated. So what are really the best ways to prevent allergies in your kids?
The main controversies that have taken place about the cause of allergies are focusing on infancy. This is not only an intense period of growth and development, but a time when a child is experiencing a lot of “first” exposures. So what’s the best way to handle this? How should certain things be introduced? Is there a certain timeline that can cause or help prevent the development of allergies? Well, since you asked, yes there is…
Obviously, there are cases in which allergies are a genetic predisposition and can’t be prevented through diet and lifestyle. There are also allergies that develop due to the environment, which are also generally unavoidable. But fortunately, there are plenty of preventable allergies, and these are the allergies I’m focusing on in this post.
The main protectant against allergies during early infancy is breastfeeding. Breast milk is literally designed to meet all the nutrient needs of your baby. It is always the number one recommended way to feed your infant, exclusively up to 6 months and with supplementary foods up to 1-2 years. Breast milk has lots of immunologically active compounds, all of which can impact immune development, including oral tolerance, and help to reinforce the gut-epithelial barrier. This, in turn, helps to prevent allergies from developing.
With regards to what you can eat while breastfeeding, recent research has shown that exposure to food antigens during pregnancy and breastfeeding is more likely to lead to tolerance than sensitization to those foods. So unless you have a serious family history of allergies or your doctor or lactation consultant tells you otherwise, feel free to eat peanuts and eggs while feeding your little one!
If you’re unable to breastfeed for some reason, a good option is protein hydrolysate formulas. In breast milk, the proteins are lysed into smaller pieces so that they are easy for the baby’s developing GI tract to digest. Protein hydrolysate formulas are made with alternative milk, like cows’ or soy milk. They simply have the proteins cut into smaller pieces, making them more closely resemble the proteins in breast milk, and therefore, making them easier to digest. This is better than standard formula if your infant is considered to be at risk of developing allergies.
Late infancy is when you start introducing solid foods. Contrary to popular belief, it is not usually necessary to delay the introduction of certain solid foods to prevent allergies. Until about 2015, everyone thought that it was best to completely avoid exposure for 1 to 2 years in order to prevent allergies. But this has proven to have the opposite effect. It is now known that it’s a good idea to introduce supplemental solid foods while breastfeeding starting at 4-6 months, and not to avoid common allergens when doing so.
Other than simply not avoiding allergens, there are a few other things to make note of. Specific nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, omega-3s, and other antioxidants all appear to help prevent food sensitization. Pre- and probiotics also may help with this, though more research is needed. So make sure your kid is getting lots of nutrient-dense foods to start off!
What Causes Allergies?
Rather than ranting on and on about the causes, I’ll give you a quick list of some things that may cause allergies.
- Antigen exposure
- Maternal diet
- C-section (no exposure to the vaginal microbiome)
- Lack of breastfeeding
- Psychosocial factors
- Environmental and physiological influences such as changes in hormone levels
- Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
- Loss of microbial biodiversity in the gut
Some of these are obviously unavoidable. Sometimes, an allergy is going to develop no matter how hard we try to avoid it. But this isn’t always the case. Diet during infancy can make a big difference in allergy development in some cases. So new parents, don’t be afraid of common allergens just yet!
I referenced the textbook “Food and the Nutrition Care Process” (Krause, 2017) for some of the facts in this post.