Food Allergies Linked to ASD in Children

Summary: Researchers report 11.25% of children with ASD have food allergies, significantly higher than the 4.25% of children who suffer allergies without an autism diagnosis. The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking immunological dysfunction as a possible risk factor for ASD.

Source: University of Iowa.

A new study from the University of Iowa finds that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more than twice as likely to suffer from a food allergy than children who do not have ASD.

Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UI College of Public Health and the study’s corresponding author, says the finding adds to a growing body of research that suggests immunological dysfunction as a possible risk factor for the development of ASD.

“It is possible that the immunologic disruptions may have processes beginning early in life, which then influence brain development and social functioning, leading to the development of ASD,” says Bao.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open. It analyzed the health information of nearly 200,000 children gathered by the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), an annual survey of American households conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The children were between the ages of 3 and 17 and the data were gathered between 1997 and 2016.

The study found that 11.25 percent of children reportedly diagnosed with ASD have a food allergy, significantly higher than the 4.25 percent of children who are not diagnosed with ASD and have a food allergy.

Bao says his study could not determine the causality of this relationship given its observational nature. But previous studies have suggested possible links–increased production of antibodies, immune system overreactions causing impaired brain function, neurodevelopmental abnormalities, and alterations in the gut biome. He says those connections warrant further investigation.

“We don’t know which comes first, food allergy or ASD,” says Bao, adding that another longitudinal follow-up study of children since birth would be needed to establish temporality.

He says previous studies on the association of allergic conditions with ASD have focused mainly on respiratory allergy and skin allergy, and those studies have yielded inconsistent and inconclusive results. The new study found 18.73 percent of children with ASD suffered from respiratory allergies, while 12.08 percent of children without ASD had such allergies; and 16.81 percent of children with ASD had skin allergies, well above the 9.84 percent of children without ASD.

peanuts are shown
The study found that 11.25 percent of children reportedly diagnosed with ASD have a food allergy, significantly higher than the 4.25 percent of children who are not diagnosed with ASD and have a food allergy. image is in the public domain.

“This indicates there could be a shared mechanism linking different types of allergic conditions to ASD,” says Bao.

Bao says the study is limited in that the NHIS depends on respondents to voluntarily self-report health conditions, so the number of children with ASD or allergies may be misreported by those taking the survey. But he says the large number of respondents and ethnic and gender cross-representation of the survey are major strengths.

The study, “Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children,” was published online in the June 8 issue of JAMA Network Open.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: University of Iowa
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children” by Guifeng Xu, MD; Linda G. Snetselaar, PhD; Jin Jing, MD, PhD; Buyun Liu, MD, PhD; Lane Strathearn, MBBS, FRACP, PhD; and Wei Bao, MD, PhD in JAMA Network Open. Published June 8 2018.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of Iowa “Food Allergies Linked to ASD in Children.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 8 June 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of Iowa (2018, June 8). Food Allergies Linked to ASD in Children. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved June 8, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of Iowa “Food Allergies Linked to ASD in Children.” (accessed June 8, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Importance The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in US children has increased during the past decades. Immunologic dysfunction has recently emerged as a factor associated with ASD. Although children with ASD are more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders, little is known about the association between food allergy and ASD.

Objective To examine the association of food allergy and other allergic conditions with ASD in US children.

Design, Setting, and Participants This population-based, cross-sectional study used data from the National Health Interview Survey collected between 1997 and 2016. The data analysis was performed in 2018. All eligible children aged 3 to 17 years were included. Food allergy, respiratory allergy, and skin allergy were defined based on an affirmative response in the questionnaire by a parent or guardian.

Main Outcomes and Measures Reported ASD diagnosed by a physician or other health professional.

Results This analysis included 199 520 children (unweighted mean [SD] age, 10.21 [4.41] years; 102 690 boys [51.47%]; 55 476 Hispanic [27.80%], 97 200 non-Hispanic white [48.72%], 30 760 non-Hispanic black [15.42%], and 16 084 non-Hispanic other race [8.06%]). Among them, 8734 (weighted prevalence, 4.31%) had food allergy, 24 555 (12.15%) had respiratory allergy, and 19 399 (9.91%) had skin allergy. A diagnosis of ASD was reported in 1868 children (0.95%). The weighted prevalence of reported food, respiratory, and skin allergies was higher in children with ASD (11.25%, 18.73%, and 16.81%, respectively) compared with children without ASD (4.25%, 12.08%, and 9.84%, respectively). In analyses adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, family highest education level, family income level, geographical region, and mutual adjustment for other allergic conditions, the associations between allergic conditions and ASD remained significant. The odds ratio (OR) of ASD increased in association with food allergy (OR, 2.29; 95% CI, 1.87-2.81), respiratory allergy (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.10-1.50), and skin allergy (OR, 1.50; 95% CI, 1.28-1.77) when comparing children with these conditions and those without.

Conclusions and Relevance In a nationally representative sample of US children, a significant and positive association of common allergic conditions, in particular food allergy, with ASD was found. Further investigation is warranted to elucidate the causality and underlying mechanisms.

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