Study Links Skin Exposure to Early Risk for Food Allergies

First Posted: Oct 09, 2014 05:29 AM EDT

An animal study revealed that skin exposure may contribute to early risk for food allergies.

Researchers at the Mount Sinai Hospital found that even before children consume peanuts for the first time, they become allergic to it. They also found that skin exposure to food allergens may contribute to early skin sensitization, indicating skin is reactive to an antigen like peanuts, mainly on repeated exposure.

One of the challenging questions for health experts is how exactly peanut allergies begin. Studies conducted earlier revealed that children get allergic for the first time on being exposed to peanut protein via breast milk or in house dust.

This study showed that skin exposure could also be listed as a contributor that makes children allergic to peanuts even before they taste it. 

"The peanut protein responsible for most allergic reactions in humans is seen as foreign or dangerous by the immune system of the skin," said Cecilia Berin, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "Blocking those immune pathways activated in the skin prevented the development of peanut allergy in the mice, and our next step will be to confirm this in humans."

In this collaborative study, the researchers exposed mice skin to extract of peanut protein. They observed that the continuous topical exposure to peanut allergens triggered sensitization and a severe allergic reaction on the whole body on a second exposure. Data revealed that peanuts are allergic mainly due to inherent components that trigger a healthy immune response. This finding suggests that skin exposure to food allergens contribute to higher risk of food allergies early in life.

"This research helps us to understand why peanut, out of the many foods in our diet, is such a common cause of food allergy," said Berin. "If we identify how the immune system recognizes peanut as a danger, we may eventually learn how to block that pathway and prevent the food allergy altogether."

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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