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Food Sensitivities in Children: Why symptoms are so often missed

Over the last few weeks, I have been discussing the difference between food sensitivities and food allergies. Food reactions can vary wildly from person to person and causing a wide range of possible symptoms – some people may experience only one or two symptoms while others could have several. Type 1 food allergies have a more specific set of symptoms primarily including hives, swelling, difficulty breathing and vomiting. However, food sensitivity symptoms can be more subtle and hard to link to something you ate This week, in part 6 of the food allergy series, I will go into more detail regarding the effects of food sensitivities in general, and the symptoms to look out for in children. To catch up on the previous articles in this series, you can read the following:

This week I was at my son’s school doing vision screening on the children. Although I was there to test their eyes, what struck me the most was how many of the children that came through the line had the classic symptoms of food sensitivities –  there were more children showing symptoms of food reactions then there were with problems with their vision. It made me realize just how many kids spend years struggling with food sensitivities without being aware of it. If we were to screen for food sensitivities in the same way as we do for visual problems and if we offered advice to parents on how to remove irritating foods from their children’s diets, what an improvement it would make to the quality of their health. As I previously discussed in part 1 of this series food sensitivities are the result of what is known as a delayed IgG mediated immune reaction to foods. This reaction can occur anywhere from a few minutes up to 3 whole days after exposure to certain foods. This makes it very difficult to diagnose food sensitivities as it is hard to tell that the reason we feel ill on Wednesday is a result of what we ate on Monday. The reason for this has to do with the way the immune system creates an immune reaction to the foods (antigens) they detect in our blood.  For example, on Monday you have a piece of pizza for dinner. By Wednesday morning you feel puffy, your eyes are itchy and your joints are stiff and achy. Why is this?

The Battleground – Food vs. the Immune System

The immune system has often been compared to the military in terms of the ‘soldiers’ it has at its disposal and the part they play in the battle of keeping you healthy. The ‘soldiers’ include white blood cells or macrophages that circulate in the blood looking for foreign proteins or antigens, to attack (pizza, in our example). When these macrophages find antigen, it binds to it and forms what is referred to as an antigen antibody complex. Once this complex is formed the macrophages release chemical messages to tell the rest of the immune systems to get ready for an attack from a foreign invader (the pizza). This complex process takes time which is why you may only feel the unpleasant effects of your delicious pizza two or three days later.

What to Look Out For – the symptoms

Food sensitivity symptoms can really vary from person to person. The most generalized symptom is probably hardest to spot – this is inflammation and it that can show up anywhere in the body and – where it shows up seems to be based on our own genetic constitution / makeup.

There are however, some more common symptoms you can watch out for – especially in children. At my son’s school this week I saw that a lot of the children I was observing had puffy eyes with dark circles underneath them. There is a particular look about the food allergy dark eye circle versus the sleepy “have-not-had-enough-rest” eye circle. Food sensitivity eye circles are slightly puffy and there tends to be a purple hue to the skin. In addition, most of these kids also had the classic symptom of a running nose that they rub with their hand creating a line across their nose – what is referred to as the ‘allergic salute’.  As well as the puffy eyes and running nose, other common symptoms of food sensitivity include:

Testing and Treatment

Food sensitivities can be easily tested with a simple blood test. For my patients I start with a panel that tests your reaction to 115 different foods. This test can determine if your blood is reactive to certain foods, forming an antigen antibody complex when it encounters any particular food.

After you receive your food sensitivity results you know which foods to eliminate. The elimination stage of the treatment involves avoiding all the foods you are reactive to for 120 days and tracking your symptoms. After 120 days (or 3 months) you can start to reintroduce the foods back into your diet, one at a time to see if you get any sensitivity symptoms. It is the reintroduction of the foods and observing for symptoms that will truly tell us which foods you are sensitive to – if you still react to something after avoiding it for 3 months, then you may have a lifelong sensitivity. There are many options for the treatment and management of food sensitivities which, unlike type one food allergies, may allow you to eventually consume the foods you are sensitive to.

The treatment is one of the main differences between food sensitivities and true food allergies – for a food allergy you don’t reintroduce after 3 months. People with true food allergies may never be able to eat those allergenic foods ever again.

Final Thoughts

Most people, at some point in their lives, develop sensitivity to a few foods. Some people are able to figure it out without testing; they may notice their stomach hurts every time they eat oranges or that drinking soy milk gives them diarrhea. But for many people the symptoms are too vague and do not occur close enough to the consumption of the food to actually form an accurate conclusion. Food sensitivity testing is something I do with almost all of my Naturopathic patients and it can really be a pinnacle in their healing process. To find out more about my Food Sensitivity/Allergy program, please book an appointment today.

Next time we will be looking at the role that hormones play in causing food sensitivities. To be sure you don’t miss it, please subscribe to this blog using the subscription box on this page. Also, I welcome your comments, questions and stories – you can share them in the comments box below.

Dr. Maura Scanlan

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