Curbing food allergy
FOOD allergy is not a condition that
makes people sit up and take notice. In
fact, it may even lose out (in terms of
the amount of attention paid to it) to minor
ailments like the common cold. But if we
know the consequences of food allergy, some
of which are immediate while others may
surface only in later life, we will not view it as
trivial. Let's check out some facts about food
Although food allergy has no age barrier,
babies and young children are particularly
susceptible. Most food allergies occur during
the first three to four years of life, with cow's
milk allergy being one of the most common'.
Food allergy is now estimated to affect 5-20%
of all children.
Much more than itches and sneezes
On its own, food allergy is already annoying
enough with symptoms like itching, hives,
swelling, sneezing; coughing, diarrhoea and
vomiting. But what many people are ignorant
of is the fact that food allergy in infancy may
lead to the development of other allergic diseases such as eczema, allergic rhinitis and
asthma later on in life, forming what we call
an "allergy march". So, it is worth every effort
to prevent food allergy right from the start,
i.e. in infancy.
Cow's milk as the trigger
Food allergy occurs when our immune sys- tem mistakes a harmless component in
food, usually a protein, as "dangerous" and over- reacts, giving rise to the
So, it helps to know what foods are more
potent or allergenic. These have been narrowed down to eggs, milk, peanuts and tree
nuts, soy bean, fish, shellfish and wheat,,.
However, cow's milk protein is still the main
food allergen to which infants are first
exposed and unmodified cow's milk contains
more than 32 proteins with great potential of
Breastfeeding prevents food allergy
So, to prevent food allergy in babies, they have to be given a hypoallergenic
milk that will not cause adverse reactions. This brings us to breastfeeding.
Considered as the "gold standard", breast milk is hypoallergenic. The protein in
breast milk, being a human protein, is not regarded as foreign by the baby's
immune system and therefore does not trigger allergic reactions.
In addition to being hypoallergenic, breast
milk activates and strengthens the child's
immune defences by supporting the growth
of Bifidobacteria (bifidogenic effect), a type of
beneficial bacteria that live in the intestine.
Bifidobacteria offers protection against allergic diseases and intestinal infections caused
by other harmful bacteria.
Special properties of breast milk
Breast milk has a unique combination of bifidogenic factors that help Bifidobacteria grow
and multiply in babies' intestine. This combination comprises:
The low protein and phosphorus content
help to create an acidic environment in the
intestine that supports the growth of
Bifidobacteria. Lactose also encourages the
flourishing of Bifidobacteria because it is the
preferred food for Bifidobacteria.
• A low protein content
• A low phosphorus content
• A high lactose content
So, breast milk not only supplies all the
essential nutrients for normal growth and
development during the first six months after
birth, it also keeps food allergy at bay.
If you cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons, your child does not have to fall victim to
food allergy. Use a clinically proven hypoallergenic formula that is meant for
allergy prevention. In such a formula, the cow's milk
proteins, which have high potential of causing
allergy, have been modified with heat and
enzyme treatment into smaller units that are
Some hypoallergenic formulas also have bifidogenic factors, like a high quality but low
protein content, high lactose and low phosphorus level. So, these hypoallergenic formulas
help to prevent allergy as well as support the
growth of Bifidobacteria for further protection
against allergy and intestinal infections.
According to a commentary by the
European Society for Paediatric
Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
(ESPGHAN), soy protein formulas do not pre- vent allergic diseases. Consult your
doctor before using soy protein based formulas because your child may be
allergic to soy protein, which is one of the allergenic foods we
highlighted earlier. In fact, soy protein is as
allergenic as cow's milk protein.
Food allergy is also influenced by the state of
the digestive tract and age at which the offensive food is first introduced. Babies and young
children have immature digestive and
immune systems. So, it is best to delay the
introduction of solid foods until your child is
six months old.
Even then, highly allergenic foods like
peanuts and shellfish should be left out until
your child is at least a year old. New foods
should be given to your child one at a time.
This enables any food allergy to be pinpointed
Food allergy is the beginning of the long
and miserable "allergy march". So, ensure
your child's foods are all treats and not