The recent annual scientific meeting of the Australasian Society of Child Immunology heard that current research shows that Australia has the highest prevalence of food allergy in the world.
The meeting was told by Professor Johan Garssen of the Danone Research – Centre for Specialised Nutrition and Utrecht University –Department Immunopharmacology, Utrecht, the Netherlands, that in the latest research approximately 20 percent of the Australian population has a food allergy, with around three percent of children having a cows’ milk protein allergy.
Although the rest of Asia has lower rates of food allergy at this stage, it is being well recognised that with the increasing western diet in these countries, this will be changing, as immigration studies are showing these populations are more susceptible.
During the keynote speech at the meeting, Professor Garssen suggested several potential reasons for the increase in food allergies and allergic diseases, including;
- a failure of immune tolerance,
- microbial exposure (“hygiene hypothesis”)
- diet and air pollution
- postnatal development
Evidence currently supports that changes to microbial exposure patterns has had a significant impact on the rise of allergy related disorders. It is likely to not be the only factor however, with dietary changes appearring to contribute to pro- inflammatory conditions.
It has been long believed that breast feeding is one of the best starts to life. Evidence is showing show that by consuming human milk, infants can develop protection against some immunological diseases and improve immune systems. Components of cows’ milk protein are being tested in high risk families to reduce the incidence of allergies.
There are medications that reduce the symptoms of allergies but to this point there are no cures for a food allergy, except avoidance.
Food businesses have a key role in food allergies and must take this role seriously at all levels.