Posted on Thursday 25 July 2013
A breakdown of the skin barrier and inflammation in the skin could play a key role in triggering food sensitivity in babies, a study has revealed.
Scientists say this finding indicates that food allergies may develop via immune cells in the skin rather than the gut. This means tackling eczema could help prevent children from developing a food allergy.
A link between eczema and food allergy has been known for some time but this work by researchers from the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at St Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College London and the University of Dundee, adds to growing evidence of the skin barrier’s role in this process.
Dr Carsten Flohr, Consultant at St John’s Institute of Dermatology and NIHR Clinician Scientist and Senior Lecturer at King’s College London says: “This is a very exciting study, providing further evidence that an impaired skin barrier and eczema could play a key role in triggering food sensitivity in babies, which could ultimately lead to the development of food allergies.”
“This work takes what we thought we knew about eczema and food allergy and flips it on its head – we thought that food allergies are triggered from the inside out, but our work shows that in some children it could be from the outside in, via the skin.
“The skin barrier plays a crucial role in protecting us from allergens in our environment, and we can see here that when that barrier is compromised, especially in eczema, it seems to leave the skin’s immune cells exposed to these allergens.
“It opens up the possibility that if we can repair the skin barrier and prevent eczema effectively then we might also be able to reduce the risk of food allergies.”
The researchers found that infants with an impaired skin barrier, especially if they also have eczema, are more than six times more likely to be sensitised to a variety of foods such as egg, cow’s milk and peanut than healthy infants. However, the researchers cautioned that food sensitivity does not always lead to clinical allergy and further follow up of the children is currently underway.
The researchers analysed over 600 three-month old babies from the EAT (Enquiring About Tolerance) Study. All were breastfed from birth so could not have developed food sensitivity from any external source. All were breastfed from birth so could not have developed food sensitivity from any external source.
Almost 1 in 12 children in the UK have a food allergy and 1 in 5 suffer from eczema.
The study was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. It was funded by the Food Standards Agency, Medical Research Council, and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).