Asian environment may protect children against nut allergies: study

The Asian environment may protect children against nut allergies compared to the Australian environment, according to new research by the Murdoch Children's Institute.

Peanuts and other nuts are among the most prevalent and dangerous causes of allergies in Australia, leading to the highest lifetime risk of anaphylaxis.

Now, researchers believe there's something in the Asian environment that helps protect children from the condition, with Australian children up to three times more likely to suffer from nut allergies.

Professor Katie Allen, from Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), said the reason could be that Asian children were exposed to a different diets, bacteria and UV.

As part of a large Nut Health study, the Institute conducted a survey of 57, 000 school age children across Victoria and looked at where they and their parents were born.

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The study found people of Asian origin are genetically predisposed to nut allergies, which don't emerge when raised in an Asian environment.

When born in a high-risk environment, like Australia, their sensitivities suddenly increase.

"Children who are born in Australia have really high rates of peanut allergy and nut allergy. But we'd noticed clinically that Asians seemed to have higher rates," Professor Allen said.

"And if the children were born in Asia, then moved to Australia, they seem to be completely protected from developing nut allergies, so zero per cent," she added.

The research led Professor Allen's team to believe a combination of genes and environment was behind food allergies.

"The risk factors we think are probably important include something called the 'hygiene hypothesis' - so the way the infants are fed food in the first few years of life - and the UV exposure or Vitamin D. So it's probably something to do with modern lifestyle. So bugs, food and sunshine."

But not too much sun, ironically, too little, because sun-smart Australia is one of the few countries that doesn't have Vitamin-D fortified foods.

Six-year-old Oscar Tan was part of the study. His Philippines-born mother, Marie Tan, migrated to Australia when she was six.

While she's allergy free, nuts are on a long list of foods Oscar must avoid.

"Wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, avocados, bananas and kiwi fruit. And that was the beginning of our journey in the world of allergies," she said.

Mrs Tan had to quickly learn how to manage her son's diet, especially after two close calls were the most frightening experiences of her life.

After speaking with her family and friends, the MCRI's results didn't altogether surprise her.

"We have lots of Asian friends, coming from an Asian background myself, and almost every single one of them have children that have some sort of allergy."

Mrs Tan said the research has provided her with hope that Oscar and other children with allergies can one day lead allergy-free lives.

"One day, hopefully, we will be able to feed our children the same thing everybody else has, one day they'll be able to have birthday cake at parties," she said.