New research has found that children with common types of allergies, like eczema, asthma and hay fever, are at a greater risk of heart disease than their peers with no allergies. While the study did not specifically look at food allergies, there is a connection. Children with food allergies also have high rates of eczema, asthma and other types of allergies, which means they are at risk too.
Food Allergies Linked to Other Conditions
It is already well known that children with food allergies are more likely to have other types of allergies and related conditions. For example, 37 percent of children with severe or moderate eczema, an inflammatory skin rash, also have one or more food allergies. No one knows yet why there is a connection or whether eczema puts children at risk for food allergies or if food allergies are the risk factor for eczema.
Asthma, an inflammation of the airways, also seems to be related to food allergies somehow. Again, as with eczema, the exact nature of the relationship is not known, but 24 percent of children with asthma also live with food allergies. Twelve percent of the children with asthma have more than one food allergy. The connection between all three of these conditions is strong enough that one can be used as a predictive risk factor for another.
Eczema, Asthma and Heart Disease
The most recent study looked at hay fever, eczema and asthma in children and found a connection between these conditions and a risk for heart disease. Because children with food allergies are also likely to experience these conditions, they may also share this heart disease risk. The research came from Northwestern University and was published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The study investigated information from the National Health Interview Survey and included data on over 13,000 children. What the researchers found was that children with these common allergies and allergy-related conditions were at an increased risk for a number of health concerns related to heart disease. For instance, these children were more likely than those without allergies to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and to be obese.
Of course, as with most studies, an exact reason for this connection could not be proven. However, the researchers did have some ideas: Children with some of these issues, like asthma especially, are generally less physically active. Being outdoors, exercising and being around large groups of other youngsters can cause allergic reactions or exacerbate symptoms. Less activity can lead to obesity and other heart-related issues. It has also been shown that kids with these allergies tend to pick up bad health habits more often than those who do not. These include smoking and drinking, both of which can impact cardiovascular health.
These explanations, if correct, would mean that it is not the allergic condition that causes heart disease, but behaviors and lifestyle choices linked to allergies. Another idea is that the allergic condition, specifically the inflammation that occurs in a child having a reaction or an eczema rash, could be the culprit. Inflammation is thought to play a role in high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It could be that a child with an inflammatory condition ends up with more damage directly because of that inflammation.
Keeping Children With Food Allergies Healthy
Although the research sounds scary, it is important to note that the increased risk factors were significant but not huge. Just because a child has an allergic condition does not mean she will have heart disease later. On the other hand, if you have a child with an allergy, it is important to understand the increased risk and to be more aware of lifestyle choices that could contribute to poor heart health.
If you have a child with any type of allergy, eczema or asthma, encourage her to practice good health habits, especially those that promote heart health. These include eating well, which means including more fruits and vegetables, eating whole grains and limiting saturated fats. Being physically active and reducing stress also promotes good heart health. Practice these good habits with your child and you will both benefit.