Food allergy and intolerance is increasing, so it is imperative to be knowledgeable about how to treat the underlying causes. By addressing the root causes, natural supplements, emotional support and diet can bring substantial relief to children who suffer.
A true allergy is an abnormal immune reaction to a generally innocuous substance. True food allergies affect about 3-4% of adults, and 6-8% of children [3 & 7]. The allergic reactions can involve: swelling, a rash, hives, breathing difficulties, GI upset, &/or anaphylactic shock occurring within 1 hour of ingestion or exposure to the food. Many people experience a delayed immune response from certain food. The reaction can take days to surface, making it difficult to pinpoint the allergen(s).
The Root of the Problem
Common symptoms linked to food allergy or intolerance in children include: Colic, irritability, diaper rash, eczema, ear infections, tonsillitis, respiratory problems & asthma. The most common food allergies in the United States are: milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, seafood, shellfish, soy and wheat .
In Canada, the nine priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, fish (including fish, crustaceans, and shellfish), soy, wheat and sulphites . Many children have a self-limited diet including several of these foods. Symptoms may develop when the child exceeds the threshold of their tolerance level.
Refined & processed foods imbalance the body. When refined and processed foods are eaten, they deplete enzymes and thus allow allergens to enter the blood. If the immune system is over-burdened, enzymes which normally break down dietary allergen/antibody complexes will be depleted. A vicious cycle created by allergens & enzyme deficiency follows. Often, children will crave sugar or carbohydrates and this feeds undesirable gut bacteria, and allowing access to more allergens.
Children have demanding schedules. More allergy symptoms appear when we are stressed, and this can weaken our immune system overall. This effect is even more evident during the spring and fall (hay fever season). In my practice, I have not seen any children with seasonal allergies that do not also suffer from food allergies or intolerances.
Whole foods can help heal the immune system. Making dietary changes can be fun, creative, and rewarding or…boring and unproductive. Success depends on how the information is presented and interpreted. Empowering people with creative ideas, recipes and resources are keys to compliance and success with meal planning for kids.
Proper food introduction for infants is essential . Breastfeeding confers the best protection for a child, followed by the introduction (at six months of age) of vegetables, fruits, proteins and grains. A common practice in the past has been to introduce cereals at 4 months, when the digestive system is still immature. If your child has already developed allergies or intolerances, it can be dealt with. In the case of anaphylaxis, the food must be avoided. By keeping a record of the child’s food intake and noting their reactions (physical, mental, emotional, and digestive) throughout the day for at least 1 week, you can learn a lot about what should be eliminated. Careful elimination (for at least 3 weeks) and then slow re-introduction of a suspected intolerant food will help determine if it is the problem. Abstaining from the food for at least 6 weeks will usually allow the digestive tract to recover, at which point, a challenge test can be done. Challenge tests with foods which produce an anaphylactic reaction should not be attempted.
Multi-vitamins should include: all the B-vitamins, (especially B5 – required during stress); Vitamin C with bio-flavonoids (anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-oxidant activities which modulate and can even inhibit histamine release ), magnesium, and zinc (for the immune system).
Essential fats omega-3/6 fats fight inflammation: 2-3 grams of omega-3 (mainly EPA) for 6-12 year olds. Exact amounts will vary depending on the age and size of your child. Many “functional foods” are on the market now – DHA-fortified yogurt, bread, orange juice, etc. Be forewarned – these products do not contain enough of the active ingredients to have an impact so you may want to consider supplementing with a high quality fish oil.
Probiotics (good bacteria): Babies born vaginally are inoculated with good bacteria. Babies born by Caesarean section should be supplemented with neonatal probiotics . Yeast overgrowth from antibiotic use, or early food introduction can promote food sensitivities and allergies. Probiotics and yeast-inhibitors (if needed) re-establish healthy bacteria and reduce inflammation and intolerance resulting from certain foods.
Remember that getting to the root of the problem can be a challenging and time-consuming process, so have patience and understanding. You are not alone.
1] Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2006). http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/allerg/fispoie.shtml
2] “Food Allergy Facts & Figures”. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9âŠ‚=30
3]“Food Allergies and Intolerances”. Health Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/allerg/index-eng.php
4] Plummer, N., 2007. Teleconference on Probiotics- 2008-11-13. p 3-4.
5] Sult, T., 2003. Th1/Th2 Balance: A Natural Therapeutic Approach to Th2 Polarization in Allergy. 676 1, 03, p5.
6] Thom, D., 2002. Coping with Food Intolerances. Sterling Publishing Company Inc., New York, p. 86.
7] U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (2007-07). Food Allergy, An Overview. National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases NIH Publication No. 07-5518.