When the foods we eat make us sick
Recognizing and treating food allergies and intolerances
Are you wondering if your child’s health problems could be related to the foods he or she is eating? Have you found it difficult, or darn near impossible, to “cure” simple health issues with the available over the counter and prescription medicines offered by your pharmacist and/or doctor? If the answer to either of these questions is “Yes!” then it is possible that your child may be experiencing the symptoms of food intolerances or allergy.
Some of the most common childhood complaints treated by physicians, such as eczema and other rashes, infant colic and digestive disturbances, chronic runny noses, and recurrent ear infections have been shown to be related to food allergies and intolerances. Additionally, acne, asthma, behavioral problems such as ADD/ADHD, bedwetting, chronic headaches, migraines, depression, anxiety, fatigue and irritability are commonly found to be related to food intolerances.
Collectively, food allergies and food intolerances are termed “adverse food reactions.” In an adverse food reaction, there is a recognized link between an individual eating a food and some abnormal response, be it hives, asthma or colic. A food allergy is the result of a rapid immune response involving a particular class of antibodies. This immune response usually occurs within 30 minutes of eating the offending food. A food intolerance, however, may not directly involve the immune system. Instead, food intolerances are caused by delayed immune reactions and chemical mediators in our bodies. Therefore, the symptoms of food intolerance may not arise for up to 48 hours after eating a given food, making it a challenge to identify which foods are triggers.
Currently, there are a number of ways to test for adverse food reactions. The traditional “scratch” test performed by allergists can identify true food allergies, although it is unable to identify food intolerances and sensitivities. Blood tests may measure delayed food reactions and can be ordered by qualified health professionals.
Additionally, there is an electro-dermal test that draws upon the practice of acupuncture and monitors the body’s electrical response to certain foods. The most widely accepted test, however, is the supervised elimination diet, whereby suspected offending foods are removed from the diet and replaced with hypoallergenic alternatives under the supervision of a medical professional. After a period of time avoiding the potential offenders, they are added back in one at a time, and the body’s reactions are monitored closely. Those foods which provoke either an immediate or a delayed reaction are identified as offenders and eliminated from the diet.
The most common triggers for children are eggs, milk, peanuts and wheat. Because they have immature immune systems which make them more susceptible to food sensitivities and allergies, it may be possible for children to outgrow food reactions as their immune systems mature. Allergies to milk and soy are most commonly outgrown. It is important to note, however, that anyone can be sensitive to anything, and that only a comprehensive elimination and reintroduction diet may identify all potential food triggers.
Once the offending foods are identified, treatment involves avoidance, substitution and oftentimes rotation. A health care provider can provide you with information regarding ways to avoid the offenders while maintaining adequate nutrition levels, especially for young children. They can also provide valuable information regarding identifying hidden sources of triggers common in prepared and processed foods. It is very important to get support to identify and treat food allergies, for it can be very challenging to make the dietary changes required by the diagnosis of a food intolerance or allergy. A number of excellent cookbooks exist that can provide alternatives and substitutions for one’s triggers. Support groups can also be helpful, and there is a thriving online community that exchanges information and recipes on a regular basis. With the right support and armed with enough information, it is possible to help your whole family feel better, and perhaps avoid some of those trips to the doctor in the future!