Opinion peice written by Monica Wilde and edited by Alison Jane Reid and Leila Glen
We are hounded these days with scare stories and appalling statistics, decisively confirming that peanut allergies in children are very much on the rise. According to a study released in 2013 by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, peanut/food allergies amongst minors increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. One solution might be to completely avoid eating peanuts whilst pregnant. Some new mums also avoid wheat and dairy…However a newly published study suggests that the opposite might be true! We know there has been a rise in allergies, eczema and asthma in children within the UK. Our Napiers herbalists developed our Baby Napiers range http://www.napiers.net/baby-napiers.html} to help children with sensitive skin due to increased amounts of children attending the Mother and Baby clinics. Recently, researchers from the Harvard Medical School looked at the associations between a pregnant mum’s consumption of common childhood food allergens during early pregnancy, and the development of childhood allergy and asthma. They monitored the foods that 1277 healthy pregnant mothers ate during the first six months of their pregnancies. The researchers then followed up by examining their children at around 7 years old (Bunyavanich, Rifas-Shiman, Platts-Mills et al, 2014).
They checked the children for the development of food allergy, asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis. Then they examined the associations between the mother’s diet during pregnancy and childhood allergy and asthma. They found that a food allergy was common (5.6%) by mid-childhood, as was sensitisation to at least 1 food allergen (28.0%). However, if the mother had eaten a lot of peanuts during the first three months of pregnancy the chance of their child having an allergic reaction reduced by 47%. Higher milk intake was associated with a 15% reduction in asthma and allergic rhinitis. They also found that eating wheat products during the second trimester (months 4-6) reduced the likelihood of the child developing atopic dermatitis (eczema). They did not find any link between eating eggs or soy products.
The researchers concluded that a higher intake of peanut, milk, and wheat by a new mum during early pregnancy significantly reduced the odds that their child would suffer from a mid-childhood allergy and asthma. It seems that an early encounter by the developing baby with food allergens in their mother’s diet (via the placenta) during the critical period of immune system formation in early pregnancy, can lead to a tolerance of allergens rather than sensitisation. They reported that although many healthcare professionals think that restriction of certain foods by the mother during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and delaying the introduction of allergenic foods to infants can prevent allergies and asthma, systematic reviews do not support this belief. In fact, it seems that there is accumulating evidence that the early introduction of peanut, egg, wheat, milk, and fish to a baby’s diet—rather than delaying or avoiding them — may be more helpful as it encourages a tolerance rather than an allergy.
To Read the Harvard Medical School Research Paper click here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24522094
Monica lives in a field in West Lothian, where she is slowly building her dream eco home. She is currently planting and encouraging medicinal and foraging species across 4 wild acres and have been fascinated by herbs and plants since childhood. Her original interest was sparked by a wild childhood in Kenya, where she was introduced to herbal medicine by a local Kikuyu herbalist at the age of six. She says, “We were outdoors most of the time and I remember joyfully the freedom of those early years. I love foraging for wild food as well as wild medicine and would happily never visit a supermarket again.” Monica owns and runs Napiers the Herbalist, founded in 1860, alongside Dee Atkinson one of the UK’s leading medical herbalists. She is currently studying for an MSC in herbal medicine at the University of Lancashire with a special interest in beneficial drug herb and micronutrient interaction.
Monica runs walks and workshops for the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage. These ‘Fields and Forest’ workshops are to encourage all people in our cities to visit the green spaces, parks and countryside and learn about the diversity of their natural surroundings.
This is an opinion piece by Monica Wilde of Napiers and does not reflect the views either way of EH Magazine or its editor. Always consult a qualified doctor if you are worried about allergies.