Leading Experts Rethinking Food Allergy Causes

Filed under: In The News, Health

Three to five percent of the population is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts or seafood,

Three to 5 percent of the population is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts or seafood, The New Yorker reports. Credit: Getty

The perplexing world of childhood food allergies is enough to make any parent break out in hives.

But conventional wisdom is now being questioned when it comes to bottle-feeding whole milk to babies or keeping toddlers away from the peanut butter jar.

With an alarming increase in childhood food allergies and record numbers of parents heading to the doctor's office with concerns that their children are allergic to a long list of foods, a team of leading childhood allergy experts says the way we prevent food allergies is misconceived, The New Yorker reports.

Dr. Hugh Sampson, director of the Jae Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, tells the magazine new research is producing some unexpected findings, mostly that, contrary to popular belief, early exposure to allergies may prevent food allergies later on.


Though he believed for most of his career that children are far less likely to become allergic to problematic foods if they are not exposed to them as infants, Sampson tells The New Yorker research is proving him wrong.

Sampson and Dr. Scott Sicherer, a pediatric allergist also at Mount Sinai, have conducted extensive studies throughout the United States that show that the rate of allergies is rising sharply.

They estimate that 3 to 5 percent of the population is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts or seafood, according to the magazine.

"This increase in the incidence of food allergy is real," Sampson tells The New Yorker, but he adds that he can't say what is causing the increase, just that he now thinks the conventional approach to preventing food allergies is questionable.

In fact, the Mount Sinai team tells The New Yorker they believe early exposure may actually help prevent food allergies later in life.

Previously, Sampson says, his research in the 1980s looked at whether the problem of allergies could be prevented if mothers continued breast-feeding as long as possible. Laboratory studies reinforced the theory, he tells the magazine.

"From an evolutionary-biology point of view, food allergy makes no sense at all," co-researcher Sicherer tells The New Yorker. "It seems pretty clear that food allergy is a condition that resulted from the environment we created."

Now, experts believe, a child becomes tolerant to a variety of food proteins through exposure in the first six months of life and some 80 percent of infants who are allergic to eggs or milk will outgrow the allergy by their teenage years.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.