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Common food allergies and gender

Posted by Karen Faulkner on
Common food allergies and gender
nut allergyI've explored the differences between boys and girls before in regards to sleep but did you know that boys and girls have different rates of food allergies? This is really interesting stuff.

Boys have nearly double the risk of peanut and tree nut allergy whereas girls have double the rate of coeliac/gluten allergy.

This is really huge stuff. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that about 71,000 boys aged two to 18 have an allergy or intolerance to peanuts, compared with only 39,000 girls. Experts are still struggling to find the reason as to why this is. One theory is that mums are avoiding peanuts in their diet whilst pregnant. We think exposing the baby immune system in utero may build up immunity for life on the outside. Read more on the study here:

WeetbixThis is also the case with coeliac and gluten allergies, girls have double the rate of this compared to boys. Again we need to look at what is happening in society as a whole. How many people do you hear say they only eat gluten free or say they are intolerant or allergic to gluten? It may be the wheat protein they are sensitive to rather than the actual gluten. We are prone to diagnosing our food sensitivities nowadays without actual evidence. Almost 4 million people reported avoiding a food type because of allergy or intolerance. Of those, about 560,000 were children, and girls were more likely than boys to be susceptible.

The true diagnostic test for coeliac or gluten intolerance is to expose your body to gluten for several weeks then have a gut biopsy taken under colonoscopy and sedation. Peanut or nut allergy is diagnosed through history and skin prick test.

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-1-58-26-pmAround 85% of children with an early allergy to foods – including eggs, cow’s milk, wheat and soy – will develop tolerance to these foods by age 5 years (Wood, 2003). Allergies to peanuts and tree nuts, on the other hand, are typically life-long. Only 20% of children with a peanut allergy and 9% of children with a tree nut allergy outgrew these allergies by the time they reached school. There have been some recent developments in this area and you can read more at this link:  Australian scientists 'unlock' deadly peanut allergy

Food allergies can cause physical symptoms ranging from the mild (e.g., hives) to the severe (e.g., breathing difficulties); however it’s important to note that not all food reactions are food allergies. We get confused with the definition of a true food allergy compared to food intolerance. A food allergy causes adverse physical symptoms and involves the immune system. Food intolerance, on the other hand, does not involve the immune system.

It's important that we try and reverse this trend.

The latest dietary guidelines on introduction to solids, advise starting solids at 4-6 months of age and introducing each new food every 2-3 days. Also, that gluten and nut pastes should be given from 4 – 7 months. We need to give ALL the nut pastes to our babies not just peanut butter to avoid food allergy. Read more on my other blog:

Several studies included in a review by Cochrane et al. (2009) found that the delayed introduction of solid foods is associated with a higher risk of allergic diseases, including food allergy.

Information on the early introduction of solids is as per ASCIA (Australian Society of Immunologists and Allergists) guidelines can be found here:

You can read more research from the largest study of its kind released in late September 2016 here:

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-1-57-45-pmChildhood food allergy is more common in males, yet in adulthood it is more common in females.

However, we don’t actually know the actual timing of this gender switch. A possibility is that biological changes linked to sex hormones around the time of puberty might influence immune system-driven allergic reactions, and severity of asthma and food allergy is thought to also follow this pattern. Another interesting trend has emerged in relation to incidence of food allergy. Children in higher socio-economic families living in urban areas have a higher risk. We don’t know though whether that is a true correlation or just that more educated families recognise it and seek earlier treatment.

Allergy has a huge impact on families and the hyper-vigilance that occurs as parents who must always be aware what their children are eating is not to be underestimated. It impacts on every mealtime of every day. Exposing our babies to more allergenic foods early is key and making sure that pregnant mums eat all these foods may be an important step in reversing this upwards trend.

Some further reading below


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