When good foods turn bad …
Fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and whole wheat are healthy foods – so they should be great for your kids, right? Not if your child is food intolerant.
What is food intolerance?
Many common childhood ailments can be traced to food intolerance. Conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eczema, middle ear infections and obesity have all been connected to food intolerance. Despite the availability of medications for these conditions, their incidence is still on the rise, so we need to look beyond the use of medications and instead look for underlying causes like food intolerance.
With food intolerance, a child’s immune system sees the food as a foreign invader and decides to produce antibodies to it. These IgG antibodies form a complex with the food allergen. These complexes get deposited in different areas of the body, cause inflammation and damage the local tissues. The body tries to eliminate these complexes but if there are too many, it can’t keep up and that sets the stage for illness to develop.
IgG food allergies are usually called food intolerance to distinguish them from the classic immediate-onset IgE food allergy. With IgE allergies, the reactions happen within minutes or hours after eating the food allergen. With IgG allergies, the reactions take hours or days to develop. The delayed onset of IgG allergies is what makes it difficult to know which foods are responsible.
Food intolerance can occur with foods your children seldom eat, or with foods they eat all the time. The best way to prevent or improve childhood symptoms is to identify food intolerances and remove them from the diet.
Food Intolerance and Attention Deficit
Since there is no laboratory test to diagnose ADHD, children suspected of having ADHD are given stimulant drugs to help them perform better. Unfortunately, these drugs do not address the underlying cause of hyperactivity; they simply mask the symptoms.
Sadly, the role of food and food-additive sensitivities has been largely ignored when it comes to the cause of ADHD. Dr. Joseph Egger and his colleagues at the University of Munich in Germany performed a classic study on the role of food allergy in childhood ADHD. In this study, 76 children with severe ADHD were kept on a strict, hypoallergenic diet for four weeks. The results were astonishing: 82% of the children improved on the low allergy diet and 1/4 of children with severe ADHD recovered completely. Plus, the children also experienced improvement in their non-ADHD symptoms.
Egger then fed the children foods containing artificial colors and preservatives. He found children reacted most often to the chemical additives tartrazine (FD&C Yellow No. 5) and benzoic acid. However, none of the children reacted only to the food additives. A total of 46 different foods provoked allergic symptoms: soy, cow’s milk, wheat, grapes, chocolate, oranges, eggs, and peanuts were the most common. Foods that did not cause symptoms included cabbage, lettuces, cauliflower, celery, and duck eggs!
Having identified which foods each child was allergic to, Egger then gave the children either a placebo or a tiny amount of the food allergen without either the child or the researcher knowing which was given (called a placebo-controlled double-blind test). The results proved that the children’s symptoms were definitely triggered by their food and chemical intolerances.
This landmark study showed the dramatic effect food intolerance can have on a child’s behavior. Unfortunately, most of the current research focuses on prescription drug treatments for ADHD rather than on the importance of chemical free, non allergenic foods.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Eczema is an itchy red rash that can affect any part of the body. A number of studies have shown that foods can trigger or worsen eczema, particularly in infants and children. In general, the worse the eczema and the younger the child, the more likely food allergy (either IgG or IgE) is present. The most common allergy-causing foods are eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
A double-blind placebo-controlled English study evaluated 113 children with severe atopic dermatitis for food hypersensitivity by observing them for reactions after a food challenge. Sixty-three children had observable reactions:
- 84% had skin symptoms
- 52% had gastrointestinal symptoms
- 32% had respiratory symptoms
Egg, peanut, and milk accounted for 72% of these hypersensitivity reactions. When children followed a diet that eliminated their food allergens, approximately 40% of them had no hypersensitivity to those foods after 1 or 2 years, and most showed significant improvement in their clinical course compared with patients in whom no food allergy was documented. These studies demonstrate that food allergy can cause eczema is some children and that a food elimination diet can improve their skin symptoms.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance is essentially an abnormal reaction to certain foods which can manifest itself in a number of ways.
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