Food allergy researchers are seeking more than 1,700 babies for a trial testing whether taking a vitamin D supplement over the first year of life can help prevent food allergies.

The Vitality study, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, is recruiting Melbourne infants aged six to 12 weeks.  

All children enrolled in the study receive a free and comprehensive allergy check when they turn one, to test for the 12 most common childhood allergens, including nuts, eggs and cow's milk. 

Murdoch Children's Associate Professor Kirsten Perrett said research showed that vitamin D deficiency may play a role in an increased risk of food allergy, likely due to its role in shaping the developing immune system. 

"People who live in countries that are further away from the equator, who receive less sunlight and as a result, may make less Vitamin D, have higher rates of food allergy. This provides a clue that vitamin D may be one factor that contributes to food allergy," she said.  

The prevalence of food allergies has increased significantly over the past decade and has now reached epidemic levels in Western countries. Australia has the highest rates of childhood food allergy in the world, with about one in 10 infants and one in 20 children up to five years of age being allergic.

Associate Professor Perrett said prevention was key to reducing the food allergy epidemic. 

"At this stage, we have some hunches about why food allergy has been on the rise but we need to do these clinical trials to find out for sure," she said.

The Vitality study will provide valuable information about whether a daily vitamin drop can help prevent food allergy. 

"We were so grateful to be a part of the Vitality study, we really appreciated being able to support medical research into food allergies. The test confirmed our little boy, Toby, didn't have any food allergies, which was a relief to us," Kiandra Ward, mother of a Vitality participant said.

"Taking part in Vitality has been so easy – Toby has loved having his little vitamin drop each day. It's also really great to know that by being involved we might help to prevent food allergies in other children in the future." 

The call for participation comes as a bi-partisan federal parliamentary inquiry this week accepted all recommendations put forward by the Centre for Food and Allergy Research (CFAR), hosted at Murdoch Children's, to help prevent, cure and manage food allergies.

Last November, CFAR researchers contributed to a federal health committee inquiry on the rise in allergies in Australia, the impacts of severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, and access to services for allergy sufferers.

The government has announced its support for clinical research into food allergy treatments including head-to-head trials of food-based oral immunotherapy, research into emerging allergic diseases such as eosinophilic oesophagitis and food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome and the establishment of a National Centre for Allergies and Anaphylaxis in Australia.  

Participation in the randomised controlled Vitality trial involves an initial sample collection, completing four online surveys during the child's first year of life, attending a free allergy test appointment at The Royal Children's Hospital when their child turns one and giving their baby one drop of vitamin D or placebo every day until the age of one.

To find out more about the study contact the Vitality study:

To find out more about Murdoch Children's allergy trials visit the Centre for Food and Allergy Research website or hear from Associate Professor Perrett below:

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*The content of this communication is the sole responsibility of MCRI and does not reflect the views of the NHMRC.

Available for interview: 

  • Associate Professor Kirsten Perrett
  • Study participant 

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About MCRI
The Murdoch Children's Research Institute is the largest child health research institute in Australia committed to making discoveries and developing treatments to improve child and adolescent health in Australia and around the world. They are pioneering new treatments, trialling better vaccines and improving ways of diagnosing and helping sick babies, children and adolescents. It is one of the only research institutes in Australia to offer genetic testing to find answers for families of children with previously undiagnosed conditions.

The study is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1146913), the National Institute of Health, the Immune Tolerance Network, The DHB Foundation, the Rotary Club of Camberwell, The Isabel And John Gilbertson Charitable Trust, and the Kimberley Foundation Australia.