Friday, November 1, 2013

Food Allergies in Children

Could your child be suffering from hidden food allergies?The issue of food allergies, reactions to preservatives and food colourings, and food intolerances in children has received much attention by researchers in recent years. Studies have shown that many children to react to foods and food additives, causing a host of health problems.In my practice, I frequently see children suffering from food allergies. Symptoms can range from hives and asthma, to digestive complaints, ear infections, bed wetting, eczema, and behaviour problems. Research now strongly suggests that indeed, food allergies are becoming more common I western societies. Why is this the case? Let's take a look at1) What are food allergies?2) What can cause food allergies?3) How can you test for food allergies4) How can they be treated?What are food allergies?A food allergy is basically an immunological reaction to a protein component of a particular food.There are different types of reactionsIgE food allergy is the more serious reaction that can cause hives, breathing problems, and anaphylaxis. It is caused by the release of histamine by particular immune cells. These are the food allergies commonly tested via skin prick by the allergist. Most parents know what foods their child is reacting to because the reaction can occur immediately after ingesting the food. Strawberries, shellfish, peanuts, and egg are common IgE mediated food allergies.IgG food allergies are more difficult to pinpoint because the reaction can be delayed for up to a day after the food was eaten. These reactions are less severe and less life threatening but nevertheless can cause significant discomfort. Symptoms of the delayed reactions can range from attention deficit disorders, skin rashes, ear infections, hay fever, chronic nasal congestion, headaches, and bed wetting, to name just a few.What can cause food allergies?The complex cascade of events is beyond the scope of this article-here are just a few examples of possible factors.The digestive tract is an important mediator in allergies. Most people don't know that 70-80% of the immune system is actually located in the gut. The gut has a surface area of half a tennis court. Peppered throughout that tennis court are areas called Peyer's patches, which are like little life guard stations of the immune system. Covering the surface of the tennis court are beneficial bacteria like acidophilus and bifidobacteria (probiotics), which stick to the mucosal wall of the gut. These important bacteria have several key functions, one of them is to mature our immune cells located in the gut Peyer's patches. This is a complicated process of critical importance to a young immune system like that of a child. Babies born vaginally pick up their probiotics from the birth canal. Researchers now believe that Cesarean born babies have a higher incidence of allergies because they lack these beneficial bacteria from the birth canal and therefore cannot properly mature their immune systems.So probiotics are critically important from an early age. Another reason we may be seeing more food allergies is because our food is so much more processed. Wheat, for example, is now found in many foods you would never suspect such as lunch meats, soy sauce, and soups. Having constant exposure to common foods can cause reactions and intolerances.
Another common factor in the development of food allergies is a process known as "leaky gut". This occurs when improperly digested food particles cross the gut wall and constantly stimulate the immune system to launch a reaction. This can develop with insufficient digestion, overgrowth of pathogenic organisms such as candida albicans, and mucosal insufficiency.How can you test for food allergies?I usually recommend the IgG food allergy test from one of the more reputable laboratories. It tests for over 90 foods and can be conveniently done at home. All it requires is a quick finger prick to collect 3 drops of blood and most kids won't even feel it. It is a relatively costly test, but most parents appreciate knowing which foods to avoid. Ask your health care practitioner about this test.Alternatively, an elimination diet can also be helpful in identifying which foods your child reacts to. This process involves systematically avoiding key allergens such as dairy, gluten (the common allergen in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats) and eggs. After a period of 2-3 weeks the food is reintroduced while watching out for symptom recurrence. This is a bit more tedious as most of the time it is impossible to avoid all possible allergensHow can food allergies be treated?The wonderful thing about children is that, for the most part, they are very resilient. Their bodies heal very quickly once allergies are identified.I usually focus on allergy avoidance for a period of about 3 months while building up the immune system with natural products like probiotics and specific nutrients to stimulate proper immune response. I also often suggest a gut healing protocol to prevent further "leaky gut" and to improve digestion.

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