Food Allergy Week is fast approaching, so we thought it was time to shine a light on the state of affairs downunder, where we’ve got the highest rates of food allergy incidence in the world – and these rates are only growing. But what’s causing this trend? We’ll be unpacking 4 major factors contributing to the country’s alarming numbers, plus a few things you can do to reduce the chance of your child developing food allergies.
Food Allergy Week starts on the 25th of May and is intended to raise awareness of allergies to help reduce their prevalence and protect those who are vulnerable. Food allergies have become a growing concern worldwide, and Australia is no exception – in fact, with 800, 000 Australians diagnosed food allergies, we have some of the highest rates around the globe. Over the past few decades, the incidence of food allergies has risen significantly across the country, affecting individuals of all ages. This perplexing trend has led researchers and health professionals to investigate the underlying causes behind the surge in food allergy rates – what they’ve found a complex interplay between a combination of genetic, environmental, dietary, and hygiene-related factors. Let’s dive in.
Dietary factors like the rapid changes in food processing techniques and the introduction of new ingredients – much of which barely constitute as food! – may contribute to the increased prevalence of food allergies. Modern food processing methods often involve the use of additives, preservatives, and flavour enhancers that may trigger allergic reactions. The introduction of new foods or novel food combinations may expose individuals to allergens they have not encountered before, leading to the development of allergies.
Late exposure to allergens
Studies suggest that early exposure to allergenic foods, such as peanuts and eggs, may help reduce the risk of developing allergies – but due to many parents fearing their child may have a reaction, we’re seeing more people avoiding those early introductions. But it’s not just avoidance that contributes to a lack of exposure, but other factors that are more common in recent years. For instance, the increased use of antibiotics, decreased microbial diversity and changes in food processing and consumption patterns might also contribute to the rise in food allergies.
Genetics play a crucial role in the development of food allergies. Some individuals may be genetically more susceptible to developing allergic reactions to certain foods. Australia, being a culturally diverse country with a diverse population, has a wide range of genetic backgrounds. This genetic diversity may contribute to the varying prevalence of food allergies within the population.
The hygiene hypothesis proposes that reduced exposure to certain microbes and infections during childhood can lead to an overactive immune system, increasing the risk of allergies. Australia's high standard of hygiene, access to clean water, and generally low rates of infectious diseases may result in a less diverse immune system that is more prone to mounting allergic responses. Keep in mind, this is still a theory and has yet to be proven – but it is worth introducing a variety of good bacteria to your little ones’ diet. From yoghurt to sauerkraut or tempeh, the probiotics can help improve gut microbial diversity and reduce the risk for allergies.
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