Sunlight may help ward off allergies

By AAP with AG staff 8 February 2012
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Sunlight may reduce the effects of food allergies or eczema, according to new Australian research.

THERE’S NOTHING HEALTHY about a tan – except perhaps its ability to ward off food allergies and eczema. A new Australian study has found that people who are exposed to more sunlight may be less likely to suffer from these ailments.

The study of 7600 Australian children found that those in southern parts of the country were more likely to develop eczema and food allergies than those who lived further north.

Professor Katie Allen at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute says the results support the hypothesis that sunlight, or more specifically vitamin D, may be a contributing factor to the development of food allergies and eczema.

Managing food allergies

“We know that people in Queensland get more exposure to sunlight, and sunlight produces more vitamin D in your skin,” Katie says. “The research lends to the already existing hypothesis that the further you are from Equator the more likely you are to have food allergies and eczema.”

Australia has among the highest reported food allergy rates in the world and Katie said southern states were struggling to keep up with demand for allergy testing.

“It’s only indirect evidence, but our waiting lists for allergy testing are more significant in the south than the north,” she says. “It’s really blowing out the medical system’s ability to cope with it in the south.”

Fighting food allergies with vitamins?

While the study found a possible link between Vitamin D and eczema and food allergies, a causal relationship is yet to be proven.

But should a direct link be proven, the solution is relatively simple. Vitamin D is found not only in sunlight but in certain foods such as eggs and fish.

“The really exciting thing about this is it’s extremely amendable to public health measures,” Katie says. “We just need to look at vitamin D levels and determine how much is too much and how much is too little and how much will prevent food allergies.”