Can a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding prevent childhood allergies?
400 Adelaide pregnant women are being sought to participate in a world-first study to determine whether a diet rich in egg and peanuts during pregnancy and breastfeeding can prevent children from developing allergies.
Egg and/or peanut allergies now affect one in ten young Australian children and considerably impact the quality of life of families.
The Hospital Research Foundation* is proud to be supporting researchers from SAHMRI, based at the Women’s & Children’s Hospital, to recruit 400 local families to take part in the study to help gain insights into these common food allergies.
Researcher Dr Merryn Netting said some babies, particularly those with eczema, may be well on the path to developing food allergies before they start solid foods.
“We know that food allergens are first encountered before birth and can be detected in amniotic fluid and are also present in breastmilk,” Dr Netting said.
“We have also discovered that a baby’s immune responses can be improved by mothers eating more eggs during the first weeks of breastfeeding. Hence, early food allergen exposure either in utero or while breastfeeding is a logical new strategy to evaluate for food allergy prevention.”
This national NHMRC-funded study, called ‘PrEggNut’ is the first randomised controlled trial in the world to investigate the effects allergen exposure in the womb and via breastmilk has on the development of a child’s allergy by one year of age.
More than 2000 participants are being sought across Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, with the outcomes to inform allergy prevention guidelines internationally.
“This study will provide important information for many new mothers and mums-to-be who may not naturally eat those foods,” Dr Netting said.
“A food allergy provides a lot of stress on a family and any research that helps us understand how to prevent a food allergy before they start will save a lot of heartache.”
The trial will help many local families, including Chelsea and Matt Schiller (pictured), who have a lifetime of worry ahead about their 16-month-old daughter Madison’s nut and egg allergies.
Only one-eighth of a teaspoon of peanut butter saw baby Madison break out in hives, needing an immediate antihistamine to manage the allergic reaction.
“I feel quite lucky we were involved in a controlled study in a controlled environment, otherwise who knows what could have happened,” Chelsea said.
“She had the prick test and other challenges and she reacted to both nuts and eggs; peanuts were the worst. We now have to be really careful. ”
Chelsea is also trying to get to the bottom of her own allergies, which leave her with severe migraines and irritable bowel symptoms. She is allergic to preservatives and has intolerances to wheat and dairy.
“When I first heard about these studies I thought it would be really good to be involved. The earlier on you can know about the risks, the better you can manage them.”
‘PrEggNut’ study background
Pregnant women whose children have at least two immediate family members (mother, father, brother or sister) with an allergic disease (asthma, eczema, hay fever or food allergy) are being sought to participate in the study.
The participants will be randomised into two groups – the intervention group is consuming a diet rich in eggs and peanuts (six large eggs and 60 peanuts per week) and the control group will consume the usual amount of egg and peanut consumed by pregnant women (up to three large eggs and 30 peanuts per week).
Women in the study are following this diet from 22 weeks gestation until their baby is four months old. From around six months until 12 months of age, families are encouraged to follow the latest infant feeding guidelines and introduce and regularly use egg and peanut paste in the foods they offer their baby.
Allergy testing and food challenges are then conducted on the babies when they are one year of age to determine whether the child has an egg or peanut allergy.
Women who wish to participate should contact 08 8128 4436 or email [email protected]
*The Hospital Research Foundation is supporting this project with backing from generous donor Robert Kenrick. If there is an area of research close to your heart, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team on 8244 1100 to discuss donation options.