It is quite possible that your child is eating the wrong foods for his or her system. Food allergies and sensitivities can be the underlying cause to many childhood illnesses and symptoms without parents even being aware. It is important to remember that all people (including kids!) are biochemically different. While Child A can happily eat an ice cream cone with no side effects, Child B may develop an ear infection as an allergic response to dairy. The key to alleviating a childs symptoms is to pinpoint the sensitive or allergic food in question and eliminate it from the diet, either completely or for a period of time. What is an Allergy?
An allergic response occurs when the body, for various reasons, identifies an otherwise harmless food item as a dangerous invader. When this happens, the body creates an outpouring of antibodies to eliminate the invader. Allergic reactions fall into two categories: immediate and delayed reactions.
Immediate reactions can occur within minutes of eating the questionable food item and can involve symptoms such as wheezing, skin rashes and excess mucous production. In rare situations, immediate reactions can be life threatening due to the constriction of airways. This type of allergic response is called anaphylactic. An example of an anaphylactic allergic response is when a childs throat begins to close following consumption of a peanut. This type of allergic response is fixed and can never be challenged the food item must be strictly avoided. Parents of children who suffer from anaphylactic reactions should always carry an EpiPen (a shot of epinephrine injected into the skin) in case of emergency situations. Only 1% of all children have anaphylactic reactions.
The second type of reaction is known as a delayed response. Most food sensitivities and intolerances fall into this category. Due to the delayed appearance of symptoms (anywhere from one hour to days), these food allergies are more difficult to detect. For example, a child who is allergic to wheat may react one or two days later with eczema on his cheeks. When food sensitivities go undetected, it is not uncommon for other symptoms to begin 'popping up' elsewhere in the body.
The signs and symptoms of food sensitivities vary greatly depending on the bodys response and can include:Allergic shiners (puffiness or dark circles under the eyes)
Crohns disease or colitis
Irritable bowel syndrome
Obesity or excess weight
Spitting up in infants
How to Detect a Food Allergy
The most common allergy by far is to dairy products. The allergic reaction appears to be due to the high protein content of cows milk (cows milk derives 15% of its calories from protein, whereas human milk derives only 5%). Specifically, a protein in cows milk called casein appears to be the main irritant. Other common food allergies are wheat, gluten, corn, soy, eggs, citrus fruits, chocolate and tomatoes.
Detecting a food allergy may feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. To the surprise of most parents, the common scratch test performed in most doctors offices does not test for food allergies or sensitivities. There is, however, a blood analysis measurement called the ELISA test that can be used to detect the reactions of white blood cells to certain foods. This test is useful for measuring immediate or delayed responses. The drawback of the ELISA test is that it is quite costly ($120 to $1,200) and is, therefore, not routinely ordered. For more information on the ELISA test, visit Great Smokies Laboratory at www.gsdl.com.
Another effective way to detect food allergies is to have your child follow an elimination or rotation diet. This type of diet eliminates the food in question (e.g. dairy) for a recommended period of time (a minimum of two to four weeks) while symptoms are monitored. It is best to eliminate potential allergens one at a time to accurately detect the irritating food. It is not uncommon for a childs symptoms to temporarily worsen during the initial stages of an elimination diet. To help alleviate this phase, be sure to flush your childs system with plenty of fresh, clean water.
After an elimination diet you may be able to reintegrate the irritating food into your childs diet on a rotational basis. Prior to doing so, it is best to strengthen your childs system with nourishing food and supportive supplements.
When reintroducing the food, give only a small amount. If no reaction occurs, the food may be reintroduced on a rotational basis (once every four days). In other words, if the child consumes dairy on Monday, he or she should not consume it again until Friday. If the food is eaten in excess, it is likely that the undesirable symptoms will recur. If a reaction does occur following the reintroduction of a certain food, it is possible that the child may have to eliminate the food entirely or wait longer prior to re-testing. Although rotation and elimination diets are tedious and take dedication on behalf of both parent and child, they are well worth the effort.
Consider the following additional tips to help prevent or ward off allergic responses:
1. Breast-feed. Research clearly demonstrates that children who are breast-fed have far greater protection against allergies.
2. Supplement with fish oils daily.
3. Include a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your childs diet.
4. Try incorporating dairy-free milks and cheeses into your childs diet. If you choose to include dairy products, do not do so until after the age of two years and start with a high quality yogurt. If symptoms appear such as runny nose, ear infections or eczema, remove dairy from the diet to see if symptoms subside.
5. Pay attention to your childs digestive health. Digestion and a poor immune/allergic response can go hand in hand. For more information, visit healthy digestion.