07:48am Tuesday 17 October 2017

Study links breast milk to nut allergies

Children who are solely breast fed in the first six months of life are at an increased risk of developing a nut allergy, research from The Australian National University has found.

A joint research project between the ANU Medical School, part of the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, and the ACT Health Directorate, investigated a link between breast feeding and nut allergies using the ACT Kindergarten Health Check Questionnaire given to the parents of children starting primary school in the Territory.

Parents were asked to report if the child had a nut allergy, and on feeding habits in the first six months of life. The study found that rates of nut allergies in ACT children are increasing and children who were breast fed were more likely to have a nut allergy.

“Some 3.9 per cent of children starting school in the ACT have a parent-reported nut allergy, which is almost twice the rate of British children of the same age,” said the study’s author and Professor of General Practice at the ANU Medical School, Marjan Kljakovic.

The likelihood of developing a nut allergy was 1.5 times higher in children who were solely breast fed in the first six months of life, than in children who were exposed to other foods and fluids. Protection against nut allergy was found in children who were fed food and fluids other than breast milk.

“Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children – it may, in fact, be causative of allergy,” Professor Kljakovic said.

“Over time, health authorities’ recommendations for infant feeding habits have changed, recommending complementary foods such as solids and formula be introduced later in life.

“Despite breast feeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breast feeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy.

“Peanut allergy accounts for two-thirds of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions. It is important for us to understand how feeding practices might be playing a part,” he said.

The paper has been published in the International Journal of Pediatrics and is available online.

Contacts: For interviews: Professor Marjan Kljakovic, 02 6244 4946 / 0418 232 917. For media assistance: Sarina Talip, ANU Media – 02 6125 7988 / 0416 249 241.

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