Feeling like your little pal is doing anything short of thriving is a heavy weight, especially when the symptoms are so general and you can't quite pin point what the culprit is or how to help them.
If you suspect your child's physical symptoms and/or behavioral issues may be related to a reaction they are having to something they are eating, I'm going to help you crack the case.
First let's define the potential problem. Unless your child has an immediate reaction to a food they consume that looks something like redness, swelling, hives, and anaphylaxis, they do not have food allergies. Food allergies are sometimes an emergency situation that can require an EpiPen and even a trip to the ER in severe cases. This type of reaction happens when your body's immune system recognizes protein in a food as a threat and sends out IgE immune warriors to go fight it. At the same time it releases powerful chemicals like histamine, which cause the really scary symptoms listed above.
All that to say, you would know if your child had a food allergy. It's swift and severe.
Only about 8% of children in the U.S. have food allergies, and the most common allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.
So if it's not a food allergy, what is it?
Food sensitivities are much more common and involve IgG, IgA, and IgM immune antibodies. This type of reaction often does not happen right away and can occur hours or even days after consuming the offending food. Let me break that down for you.
Your child (or you) could get a headache on Monday from something they ate on Wednesday!
That's crazy. And it's also why pinpointing food sensitivities can be so difficult to do. On the bright side, while you may need to avoid foods you are allergic to for all eternity, time and building up your oral tolerance may allow you to tolerate foods you are sensitive to, occasionally and in moderate doses.
What are the symptoms associated with food sensitivities in children
(2-17 years of age)?
Joint and muscle stiffness and pain
Eczema/ skin irritation/ rashes
Behavioral issues/ trouble focusing
Autism spectrum disorder
Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
If your child regularly suffers from or exhibits one or more of the symptoms listed above, they may be reacting to something they are eating.
So what can you do for your kid?!
The first step is talking to your child and getting a baseline for how they are feeling, what symptoms they have, and how severe their complaints are.
This will be more difficult for the younger ones, but use language they can understand so you can help them give words to how they feel. Getting a clear picture of how your child feels on a regulate basis will create a starting point for you to measure progress. It's also important to note that if your child has always suffered from low-grade headaches, this will be their normal. They may not have even communicated it to you because they don't know anything else. Ask the questions!
Secondly, communicate to them that you want to help them feel so much better and that there may be a connection between what they eat and how they feel.
Educating your child about their health is an important step- don't leave them in the dark, give them understanding so they can take some responsibility for how they feel and know that their participation is vital!
Third, embark on a 2-week (minimum) elimination diet.
This is the hardest step, but the most important! An elimination diet removes all of the top allergenic foods for a period, allows you and your child to note the changes in both physical symptoms and behavior (which is usually huge), and then identify which foods were the offenders by slowly and strategically reintroducing the foods restricted one by one. An elimination diet not only affects the child, but the whole family. It's best if everyone can eat what the child eats while on the diet so they don't feel alone or singled out (it will be an insightful experience for the whole family). This will be more difficult if your child is a picky eater and really stuck in their food routines. But it's worth it!! No cheating either, this will mess up the whole process, so you will need to fill in baby sitters, teachers, and anyone else who will be watching over your child so they know what your goals are.
This isn't always necessary if you can embark on a successful elimination diet. I believe this is the gold standard! But testing is helpful for extra insight and documentation of what your child's immune system is up to. There are two tests I love and use for this purpose; one is Vibrant America's food sensitivity test. It tests your body's immune response to 96 foods and lets us know if your child had a mild, moderate, or severe reaction. This will tell us how long your child should avoid that food. Secondly is the Wheat Zoomer test. This test is important for anyone wanting to know if they have Celiac disease, or the risk for it. It tests for the genetic risk factors, has inflammation markers, and will give us a good idea if your child has "leaky gut syndrome." It's incredibly insightful! It's also great because if your child has a severe wheat sensitivity or Celiac, an elimination diet and avoiding wheat may not be enough. Many people with Celiac need to rigoursly monitor their gluten exposure in a way that is not necessary for wheat sensitivity. I'm talking using a separate toaster used only for gluten-free bread, avoiding packaged foods created in a facility that also creates gluten containing products, etc.
Both the Food Sensitivity test and Wheat Zoomer are non-invasive blood tests requiring 1 vial of blood. Never easy for the kids, but life is full of hardship so it's a good teaching moment LOL.
I would also be remiss if I didn't mention CBD! Research has shown CBD oil may have a positive effect on anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, autism, pain, and epilepsy in adolescents. CBD brings homeostasis to the body and creates optimal conditions for healing. You can find the one I use in my practice here.
I hope this post brought some insight and clarity! If you and your child want to begin the process of identifying food sensitivities and need support, i'm here for you! Let me know if you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment.