Giving children an allergy-free start

Little Timmy rubbed his rash-covered cheek vigorously with his fist to quell the itch. His mother looked on helplessly. She felt guilty that her child was suffering from eczema. “A form of allergy!” her doctor had told her.

When allergies come marching in …

Allergy may not be accorded the attention that other diseases command, but it is no small matter. In fact, allergy is on the rise in many countries, including Malaysia. It is one of the most common chronic diseases among babies and young children, where one out of three or four children is affected. Allergy comes in many forms and one of the earliest manifestations i s from food, which is strongly associated with the later development of eczema, rhinitis and asthma. This changing pattern or progression of allergic diseases is known as the “Allergy March.”

The right start

So, how can you prevent your child from joining in the march? One way is to prevent food allergy right from the start, i.e. from birth. Besides the threat of leading to other forms of allergy in later life, food allergy can impact the allergic child’s life in various ways.

The child needs to avoid certain foods in his daily diet. Eating out and eating at social gatherings such as birthday parties need special care and consideration. And, of course, the child may suffer from the symptoms of food allergy which range from itchy rashes and hives to gastrointestinal problems and in severe cases, life-threatening anaphylaxis. All these will also translate into more time and money spent to manage the problem.

Fortunately, nature has a way of helping to prevent food allergy in your child – breast milk. A study carried out by Saarinen K showed that breastfeeding reduced the incidence of food allergy and provided long-term protection against non-food allergies. Apart from being an ideal source of nutrition for infants, breast milk is also non-allergenic, which means it does not cause allergy in the child.

However, the child can still react to allergenic foods that his mother eats and which can be transferred to him via breast milk. In spite of this, breast milk is still the best for allergy protection.

Did you know that breast milk contains friendly bacteria (or probiotic), such as those belonging to the Bifidobacteria family ? These bacteria promote the establishment of a healthy population of friendly bacteria in the gut, which in turn help in the maturation of baby’s immune system that is responsible for handling allergies. In addition, breast milk also provides antibodies to protect the baby from infections while his or her immune system is still immature.

Formula for allergy prevention

For mothers who cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons, it is equally important to feed their babies with milk that will not trigger allergy. An option would be a partially hydrolysed protein-based formula, which is actually cow’s milk but with the allergic potential of the proteins reduced.

Imagine the highly allergenic protein as a big ball of wool that is difficult to digest by baby’s delicate digestive system. Using gentle heat treatment, this ball is unravelled into long strands. Then enzymes, such as pepsin, which can also be found in our digestive system, are used to cut the long strands into smaller pieces to reduce their allergic potential, thus making these formulas safe for consumption by infants of high allergy risk.

It is important to make sure it has undergone clinical tests that proved its effectiveness in allergy reduction besides being nutritionally appropriate for your child. Do remember, though, that these formulas are not meant to treat allergic conditions that have already manifested, but for reducing the risk of developing allergy.

Allergy mars a young child’s healthy, happy and carefree childhood. So, it’s time to stop the march by giving children the right nutrition from the start.

Article courtesy of the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology (MSAI). For more details or information on allergy, visit or xyzofallergy. org. MSAI was officially launched in 1998 to provide better patient care and quality of life to the sufferers of allergic diseases and their families. Since then, the society has been actively involved in disseminating information on immune-mediated diseases, particularly allergy and primary immunodeficiency diseases to healthcare professionals and the public. It also keeps abreast of new knowledge and findings in all aspects of basic sciences and treatment of these diseases at regional and international levels.

Taken from ParenThots, dated 27 June 2012