How lifestyle and diet can reduce the risk of allergies

Michelle Henning is is a Certified Nutrition & Health Coach and a writer, she has recently written a book called Grow Healthy Babies which distills the latest medical evidence into a practical, easy to read guide that provides expecting parents with clear and simple steps ​to​ l​ower a child’s risk of developing a chronic condition by up to 90%​.  She has shared her top tips to reduce your child’s chances of developing allergies.

My husband Victor and I complement each other beautifully – with our allergies. Between the two of us, we suffer from pretty much every chronic condition you can imagine: Various food and environmental allergies, asthma, eczema, and autoimmune issues. So when we decided to try for a baby, we poured ourselves into researching what we might do to lower our baby’s risk of these chronic illnesses. I had studied Nutritional Therapy at the Irish Institute of Nutrition & Health, and Victor had a background as a scientist. What we found in our research was that – by making relatively simple changes to your diet and lifestyle – you can reduce a child’s risk for these conditions significantly, perhaps even by as much as 80-90 percent! 
So, as a pregnant mom, what can you do to set your baby on a path to lifelong good health? It mainly comes down to two things.

First: Minding your microbiome – that is, the friendly bacteria in your gut! Your microbiome is passed on to your child via birth and breastfeeding and then plays a crucial role in programming your baby’s immune system. Second: Avoiding environmental and lifestyle factors that cause inflammation in your body. Here, I’d like to share my top five “lifestyle tweaks” to achieve both.

1) “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”: I think you can’t put this more succinctly than Michael Pollan did! What it means: Eat whole foods and cook from fresh ingredients. Try to avoid processed foods with long ingredient lists. Don’t overeat – make smaller portion sizes, or try using smaller plates! Ideally, follow a mostly plant-based diet with lots of fibre and healthy fats like olive oil and fish. Fibre feeds your microbiome, which turns it into anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting short-chain fatty acids. Olive oil and omega-3 fats from fish are also super-anti-inflammatory. The easiest, tastiest way that I know of to achieve this: The Mediterranean diet!

2) Use antibiotics only when necessary! Antibiotics wipe out your microbiome, which can take years to recover. Antibiotics are generally overprescribed, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. Often there are
alternatives you can discuss with your doctor about trying first – e.g. probiotic treatments with specific beneficial bacteria. We discuss these in the book, as well as how to recover your microbiome if you do need to take a course of antibiotics. 
3) Go to bed early and get enough sleep: This is a big one for us – in our family, if anybody doesn’t get enough sleep, we’re dealing with a gremlin the next day. We get cranky, moody, and our allergies and skin flare up. We need 8 hours to feel properly rested and recharged. Some people insist they can get by on much less, but Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” shows that pretty much everyone’s cognitive performance and immune function declines dramatically, and inflammation soars, if they permanently survive on less than 7 hours sleep per
4) Replace scented cleaners & cosmetics with more “natural” options: Raid your cleaning cabinet and your cosmetics drawer, and toss out anything that’s heavily scented or can be sprayed. The worst are spray cleaners and “air fresheners” – a funny name for something which gives 20 percent of the US population headaches
and breathing difficulties! These two are the worst for causing “indoor air pollution” that irritates your lungs and causes airway inflammation. Products that are heavily scented almost always contain hormone-disrupting phthalates that have been found to cause allergies, asthma, and worse. Most supermarkets and drugstores now stock a range of “natural” cleaning products and cosmetics. As a rule of thumb, choosing those products over the “regular” ones should be an improvement for your wellness and health.
5) Get out into nature & get dirty: It’s not a secret that being out in nature reduces stress and boosts your mood. Also, your body turns sunlight into Vitamin D, which is crucial for your immune system and feeds your microbiome. Speaking of which: Exposure to the friendly bacteria that live on plants, on pollen, in soil, and in the fresh forest air also increase your microbiome diversity and make you less prone to allergies.
There are many other things that you can do to improve your baby’s chances of lifelong good health – but these are some of the ones I’d focus on. The key is to start somewhere and not get overwhelmed. Health is a spectrum: Every little step you take towards a healthier lifestyle is worth it! 

If you are interested in learning more, you can find it in our new book Grow Healthy Babies: The Evidence-Based Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy (available as paperback, e-book, and audiobook from Amazon & others).

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