Columbia, SC—Research has found that antibiotics alter the composition of gut flora, which is critical for developing the body’s tolerance to foreign proteins, such as food.

Now, a new study published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology suggests a potential association between the rise in diagnosis of food allergies and the widespread prescribing of antibiotics early in life.

Background information in the article notes that U.S. children ages 3 months to 3 years are prescribed 2.2 antimicrobial prescriptions per year on average.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina reviewed Medicaid administrative data from 2007 to 2009 to identify 1,504 cases of children with food allergies and 5,995 controls without food allergies, adjusting for birth month and year, sex and race/ethnicity.

After taking into account factors including birth, breastfeeding, asthma, eczema, maternal age, and urban residence, the study team found that children prescribed antibiotics within the first year of life were 1.21 times more likely to be diagnosed with food allergy than children who hadn’t received an antibiotic prescription.

Results indicate that the odds of a food allergy diagnosis increased with the number of antibiotic prescriptions a child received, growing from 1.31 times greater risk with three prescriptions to 1.43 times with four prescriptions and 1.64 times with five or more prescriptions.

The study reports that food allergy affects between 4% and 8 % of U.S. children and is most prevalent during the first years of life. From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18 % among children under age 18 years, the authors point out.

The strongest association occurred in children who were prescribed cephalosporin and sulfonamide antibiotics, which are broad-spectrum therapies—adjusted OR 1.50 and 1.54, respectively—compared with narrower spectrum agents such as penicillins and macrolides, according to the findings.

“We need better diagnostic tools to help identify kids who truly need antibiotics,” said lead author Bryan Love, PhD. “Overusing antibiotics invites more opportunity for side effects, including the potential development of food allergies, and can encourage antibacterial resistance.”

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