Food Sensitivities in Children
There is a growing awareness these days of food allergies and sensitivities in children. There are often at least a few kids in your child’s class that have to restrict certain foods from their diet for a variety of reasons. For some kids with severe food allergies ingesting a food can lead to a life threatening anaphylactic reaction. For other kids, specific food sensitivities can have far reaching consequences on their well-being and contribute to various medical conditions. What exactly are these food reactions and why are they seemingly so much more prevalent than when we were growing up?
Food allergies and food sensitivities involve two different types of reactions by our immune system to the foods we eat. “Food allergy” has been adopted as a catch phrase encompassing all food reactions, when in fact food allergies involve a very specific reaction by the immune system. A true food allergy reaction looks like this: you eat a food for lunch, your body reacts to specific proteins in that food and releases a molecule called Immunoglobulin E (or IgE) into your blood stream, which triggers an immediate allergic reaction. In severe instances this could lead to a life threatening anaphylactic reaction where the airway closes, requiring immediate emergency care. Food allergies are best tested using a skin prick test at the Allergist’s office.
Food sensitivities are a very different type of reaction. There is a good deal of confusion around what food sensitivities are because they don’t occur immediately. In fact, a food sensitivity involves a delayed reaction to the food eaten. Symptoms can occur up to 72 hours after ingesting the offending food. With food sensitivities our immune systems are again reacting to specific proteins in the food. After exposure to these proteins the immune system releases a molecule called Immunoglobulin G (or IgG) into the blood stream, triggering a wide variety of symptoms. It can be very difficult to identify food sensitivities without testing due to the delayed nature of this reaction. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning, so it’s understandable that most people would not be able to pinpoint that the glass of milk they drank two days ago triggered their sinus headache today.
Are food allergies and sensitivities more common these days or are we just more conscious of the foods we are eating? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) food allergies in kids have increased 18% during 1997-2007. Though there is little research done on the prevalence of food sensitivities, I can tell you from my clinical practice that they are becoming increasingly common. There is much debate as to why we are reacting more and more to the foods we eat. Many theories exist but there is no consensus about the cause. One school of thought is that the decline of good bacteria in our digestive tracts from antibiotic exposure and lack of fermented foods in our diet plays an important role in our overall immune system function, making us more reactive to both foods and environmental allergens. The hygiene theory is another school of thought which finds that due to our overly sterile environment in the Western world, our immune systems do not have the opportunity to get exposed to a variety of organisms that help it to become strong, and in turn our immune system function becomes suppressed and more prone to developing allergic reactions. Other possibilities are increased pesticide exposure, genetically modified foods and exposure to toxins in our environment that is wreaking havoc on our immune systems and causing many to react to foods that used to be freely consumed without problem.
The doctors at NaturoMedica work with kids and adults with food allergies and sensitivities every day. I find that food allergies and sensitivities play a significant role in many medical conditions. Identifying these food reactions can eliminate a significant obstacle to healing and achieving optimal wellness. I recommend IgG food sensitivity testing for children with chronic medical conditions such as:
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Failure to thrive
- Persistent tummy aches
- Childhood obesity
- Recurrent ear or sinus infections
- Skin conditions such as eczema and acne
- Behavioral issues
- Learning disorders
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
You are probably wondering how we test for food allergies and sensitivities at NaturoMedica. This testing involves a simple blood draw or finger prick. The minimum age I recommend testing is two years old and I usually opt for finger prick testing in this age group. The lab provides a detailed report that outlines which foods your body has developed a sensitivity to and also rates the severity of each food sensitivity.
Using this information I will recommend a plan of action that involves eliminating one or more of the positive foods from your child’s diet for a specific period of time. Along with the food elimination I will often recommend specific herbs and nutrients to help heal any damage to the digestive tract, decrease inflammation in the body and promote growth of healthy bacteria to strengthen the immune system. The plan of action will be specific to your child’s medical conditions and health needs.