Are Food Allergies Genetic?

Written By Sonja Mitchell
Something went wrong. Please try again later...

In some countries, 1 in 10 children have a food allergy, and the prevalence of food allergies is increasing globally.1 We’ve talked about preventing food allergies on Plate-Wise, but we’ve never touched on where they come from. For many, the source is genetics. If either of your parents have allergies, you have a 50% chance of having allergies (not necessarily the same ones). If both your parents have allergies, you have a 75% chance.2

I’m no stranger to medical family histories. I suffer from hay fever — an allergy caused by pollen or dust — and my husband has asthma and childhood eczema. Both our boys have hay fever — the eldest also has eczema and is lactose-intolerant, the youngest asthma. Who knew you were supposed to compare medical files before getting married! Thankfully, none of us have an anaphylactic response (a severe allergic reaction), although my best friend fills this gap with a severe nut allergy. I’ve almost killed her twice, but she still trusts my cooking!

Whether allergies run in your family, it’s best to stay in the know about what causes food allergies, what could potentially be lingering in your family tree and how to plan for the future. 

How Food Allergies Develop

Food allergies develop when a person’s body responds negatively to a food. It’s likely not the food that is the problem — as these foods have been consumed for eons — but it’s likely changes in our own biological system that’s creating a negative response to certain foods — hence why food allergies can be genetic.

Research has tracked patterns of allergy responses associated with ethnicity and lifestyle around the globe. One study, for example, found that children with mothers who were born in Asia and later migrated to Australia had a lower risk of developing a nut allergy compared with children with Asian mothers who were born in Australia. Additionally, a higher prevalence of eczema among infants of Asian parents explained approximately 30% of peanut allergy increases, while differences in dog ownership explained around 18%.”3 The interaction of genetics and environment continues to mystify us all.

Common Allergies and How to Manage Them

Common food allergies include those that are often outgrown (eggs, milk, soy, wheat) and those that tend to be lifelong (nuts, fish, shellfish). Talk with your family’s health care provider to know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and to learn of new findings. There are countless support groups and websites with plenty of information, but start with your general practitioner.

If you know food allergies run in your family, also consult your health care provider on how to navigate this risk with your kids. Just because food allergies run in the family doesn’t necessarily mean your children will develop them, but it’s best to consult a professional for guidance.

1Loh, W., and Tang, M. L. K. 2018. The Epidemiology of Food Allergy in the Global Context. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 15(9): 2043.
2Berggren, T., et al. 2017. Nutrition and Health Info Sheet: Food Allergies. Center for Nutrition in Schools, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis.
3Koplin, J. J., et al. 2014. Increased risk of peanut allergy in infants of Asian-born parents compared to those of Australian-born parents. Allergy. 69(12): 1639–1647.