EXTENSIVE cleaning could be doing your child more harm than good, according to a Curtin University researcher.
Australia has one of the highest rates of food allergies in the world with research suggesting about one in ten babies will develop a food allergy.
There is currently no known cure, only ways to manage an allergy.
However, school of pharmacy professor Andrew Crowe believed there were steps parents could take to reduce the risk of an allergy from developing in a child.
Dr Crowe said while scientists were yet to understand why allergic reactions often occurred in foods like peanuts, he believed part of the blame lay in the lack of diversity a child’s immune system experienced.
“Allergies aren’t caused by just one thing, it’s a combination of factors, but cleanliness does have an impact,” Dr Crowe said.
“We clean our surroundings with so many chemicals, and iPads and things are just keeping kids inside in a bleached environment.”
When comparing kids to their counterparts from hundreds of years ago, Dr Crowe said children in Western societies were likely to stay inside away from dirt, handicapping their immune systems.
“Their immune systems don’t see enough diversity, so if we create an artificially clean environment, the body becomes hyper triggered to find things that are bad,” he said.
“The immune system is expecting to see something to fight off, so if kids are back playing in the dirt or climbing trees, the body will experience the environment on a cellular level and be able to distinguish the real threats.”
Hundreds of years ago, babies would eat the same food as adults, just in a pureed form.
This meant post breast-feeding babies were most likely exposed to all food groups.
“Parents should be pureeing the food they eat rather than buying specialised baby food, any company is going to make sure there’s no ingredient that could risk an allergic reaction,” Dr Crowe said.
“People think this new way of feeding babies is the best approach, because that’s how companies sell their product.”
The most common food allergies included peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, shellfish, cow’s milk, wheat and soy.
These allergies have always been common but have been steadily inclining.
“People in the part have been allergic, but with the current thinking there has been a significant shift away from using any antigenic foods- like peanuts- at all in early life,” Dr Crowe said.
“Over the last 20 years or so, less and less babies have been given peanuts because parents think they’re doing the right thing.
“But because of that, as a whole population we’ve stopped presenting things to babies that people fear are a threat.”
Did you know?
– Peanuts belong to the legumes food group. While there is a small overlap, about 70 per cent of people with a peanut allergy will be able to eat tree nuts.
– Allergies are protein based. When the body does not recognise a particular protein, the immune system will view it as a threatening parasite and cause an allergic reaction.
– Allergies normally kick in during infancy, but a child will generally develop a tolerance after primary school and cause the allergy to go away.
– Shellfish or peanut allergies generally start at about age three.