Covid habits linked to new allergy issues in children

Australia’s leading food allergy expert warns that babies born during Covid years may be at increased risk of developing food allergies and possibly other chronic conditions.

Even before the pandemic, Australia was the allergy capital of the world, and our changing hygiene habits are an added complication for scientists trying to improve the lives of the 20 percent of directly affected Australians and their families.

Professor Mimi Tang, a world-renowned allergist immunologist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne, says a child’s immune status and risk of chronic disease are established in the first years of life. The key to good health is the gut microbiota, a collective term to describe the good and bad gut microbes found in the digestive tract.

“We know that the gut microbiota is important for training the immune system to tune in to a healthy tone; that is, to have the right balance so that it reacts appropriately to harmful organisms that can cause disease and does not react to harmless substances such as food,” said Professor Tang.

“Over the past century, our microbial exposure has declined, which has had a negative impact on our gut microbiota. We live in a more sanitized world, so we’ve lost both our (bacterial) friends and our enemies.

“Research shows us that our gut microbiota is different from that of people who live in more traditional ways, such as hunter-gatherers in South America or Africa.”


Professor Tan, who is one of the co-authors of a new book trying to help families with food allergies, said the impact of Covid habits on young children’s long-term health remains to be fully understood.

“The increase in the use of antiseptics is likely to have a negative impact on our gut microbiome,” said Professor Tan. “It wasn’t for long for most people. However, children who had their first years of life during Covid could be hit very hard.

“From your development in the womb to the first two years of life, your gut microbiota is developing, so this is the most critical period when environmental exposure can support or undermine the formation of a healthy gut microbiota.”

Professor Tan says there is a lot of research going on right now, including one led by the MCRI, that looks at the complex environmental factors that increase the risk of food allergies in children.

She says it’s not “one plus one equals two,” and the challenge of ensuring a healthy gut microbiome in children isn’t as simple as just letting them play and eat dirt, like the composition of the soil in developed countries like Australia. has changed significantly over the past century.

“Food allergies result from complex interactions between the genes you inherit and the environment you are exposed to, especially at an early age,” said Professor Tan. “There is a lot of work to understand these interactions.”

This is an exciting area of ​​research, she says, and she may eventually uncover the exact bacterial signature that causes or prevents food allergies from developing.

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Professor Tang also explains that diet is another key weapon in the fight against allergies.

Research has linked a more varied diet during childhood with a lower risk of developing food allergies; and a mixed, balanced diet may help develop and maintain a healthy gut microbiota, which in turn may minimize the risk of allergies and other chronic diseases later in life.

Professor Tang and his colleagues at the institute shared their experiences in the new Allergy Family Cookbookwhich, even before hitting the shelves, was a game changer for one family trying the recipes.


The James family has come a long way with food allergies: trying to understand them and learning to live with them.

Both children – daughter Neva, who is now 9 years old, and five-year-old son Reif – suffer from allergies. Where Neve grew out of most of them, she has a gluten intolerance. However, Rafe is still allergic to dairy products, eggs, and some nuts.

This can turn meal planning into a minefield, and Pippa, husband Nathan, and the children themselves are all too familiar with the symptoms of irritability, pain, and discomfort that accompany bowel problems and food intolerances.

Pippa said that when the children were very young, it was difficult for her to find reliable information about what a family can eat.

“I was always looking for recipes that I could eat while breastfeeding and couldn’t eat things that babies couldn’t eat. I was constantly trying to find gluten-free recipes that were free of dairy, eggs, and nuts. It wasn’t easy.”

She tried out the new Allergy Friendly Family Cookbook, a collaborative project between allergy experts from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the food group of the Australian News Corporation. she called “fantastic”.

The book provides simple information and recipes that are clearly labeled safe for people with a variety of allergies. This means that a family from Sydney can now sit down to the same meal in the evening with confidence.

“The other day I had the opportunity to sit with the kids and let them choose a recipe knowing I can trust it,” Pippa said. “This is the first time I’ve been able to do this and it was nice to sit there with them and let them choose what they would like and be able to eat in peace.”

Penny Fowler, Community Ambassador for New Corp Australia, said the book would become a kitchen classic.

“This book and its recipes will become a mainstay for families across Australia to better manage the growing problem of food allergies in their children,” said Ms Fowler.

It is absolutely filled to the brim with delicious recipes that will find a home.

Australian cuisines.

“We are thrilled that our Taste team has worked with MCRI to create this valuable book that will give children and their families the confidence that the food they eat is safe.”

On Wednesday, March 22, HarperCollins will publish The Allergy Friendly Family Cookbook from the Murdoch and Taste Children’s Research Institute. It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon.

Originally published as Covid hygiene could be linked to allergy spikes, says expert whose book gives Australian families new hope