The Genetics of Allergies – Will You Pass on Food Allergies to Your Kids?
Living with food allergies, and related conditions like asthma and eczema, is difficult and potentially means having a lifelong burden. And if you are thinking of having children, it’s natural to be concerned that you may pass on these allergies to your kids. All parents want their children to be healthy and happy, and the idea of them suffering with the same symptoms and health challenges that you do is painful. Is there a way to know if your children will have allergies? Is there any way to prevent it? Unfortunately, the answer is: not yet.
What Causes Atopy?
Atopy is the tendency to have allergic conditions, which include eczema, asthma, food allergies and other types of allergies, like allergic rhinitis. These atopic conditions often co-occur and there is a strong genetic correlation, but there are other factors involved, too. Most studies have shown that there is definitely a genetic component to atopy but that there is also a role for environmental factors. How these interact and which contributes more to the development of atopic diseases is still uncertain.
Genetic research is continuing at a fast pace, though, and as technology advances researchers are able to better pinpoint areas of genes that likely contribute to allergies and atopy. Recent research found an area of genes that is likely associated with peanut allergies, for instance. Because not everyone with the mutation in question develops a peanut allergy, researchers suggest that it is the mutation, along with some environmental factor, that causes it. That factor or factors are still unknown, but researchers hope that if they can be found, allergies may someday be preventable.
Genetics and Gender in Allergies
Another interesting recent study found a connection not just between genetics and allergies, but gender, genetics and allergies. The study involved over 1,500 children and their parents, all of whom were tested for allergies. The researchers found that the risk for several types of atopy was only significantly increased in a child if their parent of the same gender had it. For mothers with asthma, for example, only their daughters were at an increased risk of also having asthma.
As genetic technologies continue to evolve, another tool, genetic testing, may become useful in determining the likelihood that children will be born with or develop allergies. Commercial genetic testing company 23andMe recently released a study that showed through its screenings that 11 genes could help screen for allergies. The genes are specifically associated with asthma and hay fever, but advances like these are what may make it possible to one day soon screen parents and babies for genes that make allergies likely or definite.
The simplest, although not very satisfying answer to the question of whether or not your children will also struggle with allergies is: maybe. If you have allergies, your child is definitely at an increased risk. If both parents have allergies, that doubles the increase in risk. If you are a woman and have allergies, you may put your future daughters at greater risk, but not your sons, and the opposite is true for fathers. It is important to know that having allergies yourself does not guarantee that your children will.