Food Allergies And Intolerances: What The Medical Approach Is Missing
Food allergies and intolerances are on the rise, particularly in kids. Doctors will often prescribe medications, but many mums know intuitively that something is being overlooked when it comes to managing these issues.
Watch the video or continue reading below to find out more about what the medical approach misses when it comes to food allergies and intolerances.
By 2050, the incidence of allergies in Australia will increase by 70%. That means that 7.7 million Australians will be affected by some kind of allergic condition.
When we were in school, there was probably one or two kids in the entire school with an allergy. Today, there’s one or two kids in every class. In my opinion, a lot of this comes down to the changes in the Western diet and lifestyle.
Types of allergies and intolerances
Allergies and intolerances are complex, as there are different types of both. But we’re going to have a look at the main ones you will come across.
The first type is called an IgE reaction. This is the one that is anaphylatic. It has a rapid onset, and tiny doses of the allergen can trigger a reaction. You know if your child has this. IgE reactions are simple to test for – a skin prick test will tell you if there is a reaction or not.
The second is an IgG reaction. This one is a lot murkier. It has a longer onset than IgE – a reaction could occur hours or even days after ingestion. It can also be dose-dependent. Your child might be ok with consuming a small amount, but too much will cause problems. The symptoms vary a lot more with IgG, and the testing can be inconclusive. This can make it more difficult to spot.
But for most food allergies and intolerance, there is one major issue. They occur because of an inappropriate reaction from the immune system. The immune system is confused, and can’t recognise if something is a friend or a foe.
What many medical professionals miss with food allergies and intolerances
When you have a child with food allergies and intolerances, most doctors will have a similar approach. They will focus on relieving the symptoms by prescribing medications such as anti-histamines, steroids and steroid creams.
The only time that a doctor will address your child’s diet is if it’s an IgE allergy. In this case, they will tell you to avoid that food at all costs. But if your child has an IgG reaction, the diet is usually not discussed. It might be unclear to them which food is causing the issue, or they might say that food has nothing to do with your child’s condition.
The problem with this is that medications are a bandaid approach. They help to relieve the symptoms, but they don’t address the underlying cause.
I disagree with this approach. A holistic approach that looks at the root cause can make a big difference to a child’s health. So let’s look at the areas that most doctors will miss in food allergies and intolerances.
How can food allergies and intolerances be managed naturally?
What it comes down to is improving the tolerance that our kids have to foods and environmental substances.
Many practitioners might encourage you to restrict more and more foods. But I feel that is a dangerous approach. It means that their immune system becomes more sensitive, they are at a high risk of nutrient deficiencies, and it puts more stress on families. That’s why I prefer to focus on improving tolerance.
This doesn’t mean that you can necessarily cure anaphylaxis. But addressing the underlying issues can also help to relieve other symptoms. Many children with allergies experience digestive symptoms like bloating or loose bowel movements. They get sick easily because their immune system is confused. Even behavioural issues and learning difficulties can be supported by improving tolerance to foods.
To improve tolerance, we have to look to the gut. 70-80% of our immune system is found in the gut. So if your child’s immune system is out of balance, the gut is where we want to start.
There are four main areas to address when it comes to rebalancing the immune system in food allergies and intolerances. They are:
- Immune function
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
There are some intolerances that occur because the body isn’t producing enough enzymes to break down the food. A perfect example of this is lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance isn’t an immune in nature – it’s a lack of the enzyme that breaks down lactose.
To address this, we need to focus on enhancing the body’s production of these enzymes to help break down food properly.
This is about balancing out the microbiome, or the bacteria that lives in the gut. When it comes to addressing food allergies and intolerances, diversity is key. In the hunter-gatherer days, we had a lot more diversity in the types of bacteria in the gut. But our modern processed diets have halved the diversity.
So how do we increase the diversity in a child’s gut? There are a few ways:
- Fuel the good bacteria – prebiotics are a type of fibre that feed the good guys in the gut. They nourish the good bacteria and encourage it to grow. You can find prebiotics in many wholefoods, including nuts, seeds, vegetables and wholegrains.
- Expose kids to different microbes – we live in a sanitised world, which means kids aren’t exposed to different microbes as much. So encourage them to get outside! Let them play in the dirt, garden and play sports. Go hiking and camping with them. Let them play with pets. All of these contribute to a more diverse microbiome.
- Find the right probiotics – not all probiotics are created equally. The cheapest probiotic from the supermarket is probably not going to do much good. This is because there are specific strains that help with different conditions, including peanut allergies, asthma and eczema. If you’re not sure which probiotic is right for you, ask your friendly naturopath!
In the gut, we have tight junctions between the cells of the gut wall. Think of the gut as a tube – we want the food to stay in the tube. But when tight junctions break down, the food can leak into the bloodstream before it’s fully digested. This is known as ‘leaky gut’.
When there is undigested food in the bloodstream, the immune system sees it as an enemy, and responds with inflammation. In fact, this can be a cause of food allergies and intolerances.
But it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. Just as leaky gut can create food allergies and intolerances, inflammation from food allergies and intolerances can cause leaky gut.
Finally, we want to encourage a well-regulated immune system. A kid’s immune system is immature – it’s not sure what to do and needs to learn. That’s why kids are so prone to allergies. So we need to encourage their system to have a balanced approach.
How can we do this?
- Address gut health using the tips above
- Optimise vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for immune regulation, diverse gut bacteria and maintaining the gut barrier. But unfortunately, low vitamin D is all too common.
To support healthy vitamin D levels, you want to encourage your kids to play outside. As we head into winter, you’ll want them to get outside in the midday sun when it’s warmest, as this is when they will produce the most vitamin D.
Other supports for food allergies and intolerances
Herbs and nutrients can also help support a healthy immune system. But this is something that is best assessed on a case-by-base basis. To know which herbs and nutrients to use, we need to have a detailed case history to assess where your child needs support.
If you’re ready to treat the cause of your child’s food allergies and intolerances, I’m here to help. To find out more about working with me, click here.