This week Down Under

Study: Fibre and vitamin A key to preventing allergies to peanuts

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags Allergy Immune system

Eating a diet rich in fibre can shape the immune system to reduce allergies to substances such as peanuts, new research shows. 

A study, published today in the journal Cell Reports​, suggests that a simple bowl of bran and some dried apricots in the morning could prevent allergies. It also reveals how the immune system works with the good bacteria in the gut to help protect against life-threatening allergic responses.

Australian children have the highest recorded rate of allergies in the world. The Monash University-led study revealed that it may be a lack of fibre in diets that’s causing this deadly rise in allergies. 

By determining how this happens, the researchers have suggested potential treatments to prevent, or possibly even reverse food allergies. They suggest that allergy treatments could use probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that recolonise the gut, or prebiotics (healthy foodstuffs) that could work together to prevent or reverse allergies.

The research, performed largely by Jian Tan at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, found that mice allergic to peanuts were protected against the allergy when fed a high-fibre diet. In particular, the fibre appears to act by reshaping the gut and colon microbiota.

The microbiota in the gut assist the immune system in resisting allergies through the breaking down of fibre into short-chain fatty acids. This opens up a potential route for drug therapy for allergies by delivering short-chain fatty acids as a treatment.

The study revealed that eating a high-fibre diet actually changes the bacteria in the gut to protect against food allergies. The transfer of these “good bacteria​” to mice without the microbiota could reduce the symptoms of food allergies. 

The scientists further unravelled how a high-fibre diet protects against allergies. They found that short-chain fatty acids boosted a particular subset of the immune system called dendritic cells, which control whether an allergic response against a food allergen happens or not. 

Effectively, increased levels of short-chain fatty acids switch these cells to stop the allergic response, while a lack of fibre may have an opposite effect. These specialised dendritic cells require vitamin A, another factor which can only be obtained through the diet.

While deficiency of vitamin A in adults is unusual, the researchers suggest that less than ideal levels of vitamin A, in addition to short-chain fatty acids, could promote food allergies in infants. 

This may explain why the highest prevalence of allergies occurs in children and infants. Tan said the study had not only revealed how the immune system fails when a person becomes allergic, but how the immune system can be helped through diet, to prevent or lessen the effects of allergies. 

Last month, researchers at another Australian university identified clinical markers that can accurately predict which children will grow out of their peanut allergy in later childhood.

The Murdoch University team said they could pinpoint at one year of age at which levels children were most likely to grow out of their allergy by the time the child turned four. 

They found that children with higher levels of IgE antibody threshold had a greater chance of persistent peanut allergy. Furthermore falling IgE antibody levels between ages one and four years was the strongest predictor of the development of peanut tolerance.

More stories from Down Under…

Victorian government queried over assistance to warehouse business

The Australian warehousing and logistics lobby has called on a state government to explain why it encouraged a business with a history of serial insolvency in Europe to enter the local market.


Victoria’s government recently welcomed plans by Dutch-based cold storage and logistics company NewCold to establish its Asia-Pacific Headquarters in Melbourne’s west.

However, an investigation by international forensic and risk services company PKF has revealed that NewCold’s European directors have a history of insolvency associated with failed companies in the same industry.

Refrigerated Warehouse & Transport Association of Australia chairman David O’Brien called on state authorities to disclose any subsidies or financial assistance offered to NewCold’s establishment in Victoria, and to explain what due diligence had taken place.

Our own investigation found both of NewCold’s foreign directors have been directors of companies that have gone into liquidation in the UK. How have they proved financial viability when there is a history of serial insolvency in Europe​?” said O’Brien. 

This should have raised the alarm for any Australian business or government considering entering a commercial relationship with this firm​.”

The state government heralded the arrival of NewCold’s automated cold storage warehouse in Truganina, which it said will create 127 full-time jobs when it opens in 2017.

In a statement, the administration said it had “helped secure​” the headquarters and had worked closely with NewCold on planning and infrastructure issues.

The project was “part of [premier Daniel] Andrews’s Labor government’s ongoing efforts to attract investments that create jobs across Melbourne and regional Victoria​,” said state industry and employment minister Wade Noonan

However, O’Brien said he was “extremely concerned​” by the processes involved in the deal. 

The premier needs to explain what data he relied upon to support his promise of the creation of 127 jobs in a business which is highly automated​.” 

The Australian cold storage industry is estimated to be worth about A$6bn (US$4.4bn), and is forecast to continue growing at around 2.5% per annum. 

Australian beer tastes have changed dramatically over 10 years

More than three-quarters of the 38% of Australian adults who drink beer at least once a month are men, cementing the amber nectar’s reputation as the preferred beverage of Aussie blokes.


In the year to March, 5.3m Australian men—or 59% of the adult male population—drank some form of beer in an average four weeks compared to 1.7m women (18%). 

Consumed by 47.6% of men, standard beer wins out over premium/imported (37%), and full-strength (53.6%) is far more popular than mid-strength (13.6%) or low-alcohol (10.1%) beer. 

The proportion of men drinking beer of any type and/or strength consistently outstrips the proportion of women who do so, but both genders are more likely to drink standard beer than premium/imported, as well as showing a resounding preference for full-strength over the reduced-alcohol varieties. 

Given how widespread beer-drinking is among Australian men, Roy Morgan data reveals a tightly contested field, with three very different beer brands battling it out for top spot. 

In an average seven-day period, 11% of beer-drinking men consume Carlton Draught, fractionally ahead of Mexico’s Corona and Queensland’s mid-strength staple, XXXX Gold. 


Victoria Bitter satisfies the thirst of 8.5% male beer drinkers, while premium beer Coopers Pale Ale completes the top five at 8%.   

Nobody would be surprised to read that Australian men love their beer, though less predictably, no specific brand of beer stands out as a clear favourite​,” said Norman Morris of Roy Morgan Research. 

With an ever-increasing selection of beers on the market, things have changed dramatically since back in 2007, when VB dominated as the beer of choice for one in five Australian men, and Corona didn’t even feature among the top 10​.”  

Lupin considered for mandatory allergen labelling

The antipodean food regulator has called for submissions on a proposal to require lupin to be declared an allergen.


Chief executive Steve McCutcheon said Fsanz had proposed the addition of the legume to a list of allergens that must be declared, either on labels or displayed with the food, if they are present.

Like some other legumes, such as soy and peanut, lupin has the potential to be an allergen​,” McCutcheon said.

Historically, most of the Australian sweet lupin crop has been used for animal feed or exported. However, because of its high protein and fibre content, it is increasingly being used in food for people​.”

Due to the increase in its use for food purposes, and some cases of allergic response, Fsanz was asked to investigate whether lupin should be included as an allergen that requires a mandatory declaration.

All Fsanz decisions on standards are notified to ministers responsible for food regulation, who can then decide to adopt, amend, or reject standards, or ask for a review.  

The closing date for submissions is July 28.

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