Vitamin D Deficiency Identified As A Cause of Childhood Food Allergies
Deficiency of Vitamin D has been linked to autoimmune diseases, poor metabolic health and bone disorders amongst other health problems.
New research has confirmed that low vitamin D levels are also implicated in the development of food allergies in children, providing another piece to the puzzle of rising allergy rates.
Alarmingly, food allergies are now reported to affect 1 in 10 Australian children under the age of 12.
This rate has risen drastically over the last 20 years, possible reasons for this include the modern, germ-free lifestyles many families now live which are believed to suppress natural immune development during early childhood, and increased rates of vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women, thereby contributing to infant D-deficiency – a whopping 30% of Melbourne women are estimated to be vitamin D deficient.
The results of this Australian study on over 5000 one-year-olds showed that vitamin D deficient children are three times more likely to have a food allergy than non-deficient children, and are also more likely to have an allergy to multiple foods than children with healthy vitamin D levels.
These results correlate with previous epidemiological evidence showing that infant and childhood food allergy is more prevalent in areas further from the equator where there is more likely to be Vitamin D deficiencies.
Interestingly, the link between vitamin D and food allergies was seen only in children whose parents were born in Australia, indicating that genetic factors may also play a role in this relationship.
How does Vitamin D Protect Against Food Allergies?
Vitamin D is believed to influence food allergy risk predominantly via its role in immune regulation and through its role in the development of a healthy digestive system.
A lack of vitamin D during infancy can result in reduced innate cellular defenses in the gut, leading to compromised intestinal barrier function or vitamin D mediated alteration of intestinal bacteria composition.
Researchers stated that other health factors influencing the risk of developing food allergies include digestive system health and intestinal bacteria balance, diet, sunlight exposure, allergen exposure and genetic predisposition to allergies.
In infants and children, healthy gut bacteria are developed and nourished through breast-feeding, vaginal birth as opposed to caesarean section delivery, a healthy diet (when eating solids) and avoidance of antibiotic treatment.
How to Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Food Allergies:
- Get your vitamin D levels tested throughout pregnancy to avoid deficiency. Supplement with vitamin D during pregnancy and lactation if your levels are low. To find out more about restoring your Vitamin D levels safely, click here.
- Breastfeed your baby for at least six months if possible. Find out more about the many benefits of breastfeeding here.
- Introduce a wide variety of solid foods around six months, including free range/organic egg – a good dietary source of vitamin D.
- Learn to be more relaxed if your baby is exposed to environments that aren’t completely clean or germ-free, as this helps to develop their natural immune defenses.
- Consider probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and lactation, especially if there is a family history of allergies to reduce risk of your baby developing an allergy.
- Ensure your children get enough safe exposure to sunlight to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. If their levels are low when tested, additional supplementation may be recommended.
Importantly, this study shows that sufficient vitamin D levels are particularly important in the first year of a child’s life, so speak to your health care practitioner if you are concerned about D-deficiency or want to know more about appropriate vitamin D supplementation for infants.
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Allen, K. et al. 2013, Vitamin D insufficiency is associated with challenge-proven food allergy in infants, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology