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Baby Wipes Linked to Food Allergies, Study Says

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Baby Wipes Linked to Food Allergies, Study Says

The mystery behind the development of childhood food allergies just got a little bit clearer. A new study from Northwestern University identified a “recipe” that may trigger an allergy, and one of the ingredients is baby wipes.

Drawing on evidence that up to 35% of children with food allergies have a form of eczema, researchers hypothesized that these immune responses trace back to the skin. In addition to certain genes affecting absorbency, topical exposure to food allergens, dust, and soap residue from wet wipes may trigger a change in the top layer of skin.

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“This is a recipe for developing food allergy,” said lead study author Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life.”

To test these theories on the “perfect storm” behind food allergies, Cook-Mills used neonatal mice. She created a skin barrier dysfunction both by changing some of the mice’s genes and exposing them to dust and sodium lauryl sulfate, a soap present in infant cleansing wipes.

When she then exposed the mice to food allergens like peanuts, only the ones with altered skin developed allergies. Mice with regular skin did not show any signs of allergies even after repeated contact with peanuts.

Of course this study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology was done on animals, not humans, so plenty of questions remain about food allergies in kids. However, it’s another step forward in decoding these anomalies.

Food allergies affect an estimated 4% of children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the most recent data available, the prevalence of reported food allergies increased 18% from 1997 to 2007.

While there’s still more research to be done, Cook-Mills has some advice for parents based on her findings.

“Reduce baby’s skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby,” she says. “Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago.”

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