Giving children plenty of fruit, vegetables, butter, and yoghurt in the first year of life could protect them against asthma and allergies later in life, according to new research which shows these foods contain special compounds linked to a lower risk of such conditions.
A study, due to be published shortly in the monthly science journal Allergy, by an international team of researchers led by a UCC scientist, has found that short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are naturally contained in yogurt and butter, and are also produced through the fermentation of fruit and vegetables by bacteria in the gut.
When healthy quantities of these foods are consumed in the first year of life, the risk of a child developing asthma or allergies, later on, is found to be much lower, explains Liam O’ Mahony, professor of immunology at the Departments of Medicine and Microbiology, APC Microbiome Ireland, UCC.
These children were part of a cohort of about 1,000 children who participated in a previous, Europe-wide study, nearly a decade ago. This older study established that eating butter, yoghurt, fruit and vegetables in the first year of life was associated with a lower risk of allergies and asthma later.
The new study reveals one of the reasons why this is so. The study identified what Prof O’Mahony describes as a “commonality” between SCFAs, which are contained in butter and yoghurt and which are also produced through the fermentation of the fibres of fruit and vegetables by bacteria in the gut.
“Significant associations between levels of SCFAs and the infant’s diet were identified,” said Prof O’Mahony.
The new research found that children who had scored highest for SCFAs at the age of one year had significantly less allergies and were less likely to have asthma between the ages of three and six years, he explained.
“The increase in the prevalence of allergic diseases over the last decades has been associated with lifestyle changes in industrialised countries,” said Prof O’Mahony. “One of the lifestyle factors thought to be important is the diet.
“Nutritional factors and their interaction with the gut microbiota influence immunological processes, especially early in life. Even though it has been suggested that nutrition during infancy might play a major role in the development of allergies later on in childhood, successful strategies for allergy prevention based on an infant’s diet are still needed.