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Food Allergy In Children

allergy immune health

Where do we go from here??

When peanuts became such an allergy issue, an entire market opened up... peanut-free everything.  Now most schools and even school boards are placing nut restrictions on student lunches and snacks to protect those who are severely allergic.

It's not just nuts anymore, though....

This study shows that milk and eggs are more worrisome food allergies for caregivers than are nuts (1).   "...because eggs and milk are everywhere, and used to prepare so many dishes, caregivers with children allergic to those two ingredients feel more worried and anxious."

And food reactions span an even broader range than that, even.

More and more kids are having reactions to all kinds of foods.... grapes, barley, cucumber, pork, oranges... foods that should be bringing nourishment are, instead, causing digestive pain, skin outbreaks, hyperactivity, swelling, sleep disturbance and more.

How do we know? Because when we take them out, symptoms recede.

It can be downright terrifying to feed your child once you learn about the vast array of symptoms that can be caused by a food reaction.

I mean, if you find out that grapes and sesame seeds cause you beautiful child to break out in a rash and start bouncing off the walls of course you'd be terrified.

And then there is anaphylaxis to worry about... a type of severe allergy in which a massive release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals causes swelling, mucous production and a drop in blood pressure. It can be life threatening if adrenaline (epinephrine, aka Epipen) and anti histamines are not given.

But fear is something we need to carefully manage as parents. It can easily get out of control (more on how to harness fear in a positive way here).

So let's go deeper into the roots of food reactions and understand them a bit better.

When we have knowledge we can find strategy. And when we have strategy we find hope and confidence. 


Types Of Food Reactions

“True Allergy”, (or IgE-mediated allergy)

In the 1960s it was discovered that the immune system had various different types of workers, called immunoglobulins. Shortly after this discovery, the definition of allergy was narrowed to include only adverse reactions caused specifically by activation of a particular immunoglobulin, the immunoglobulin E (or IgE). That definition still largely dominates conventional thought on allergies today.

Symptoms of this kind of IgE-mediated allergy usually appear immediately or soon after exposure to the allergen and usually include some type of swelling, rash, hive, itch and increased mucous production. The symptoms are largely due to the body’s release of a chemical called histamine.

To diagnose this kind of allergy you can ask your doctor to send you to an allergist who will look for the presence of IgE antibodies in the blood.

The treatment for this kind of allergy is either avoidance of the trigger, some type of re-training of the immune system (to be followed by your allergist), or regular use of antihistamines for symptom management. Anaphylaxis is a servere version of this type of allergy.

Re-introducing foods to which your child has been found to have this type of true, IgE-mediated allergy should only be done in consultation with your allergiest.  


Food Sensitivity

This is where there is some disagreement and controversy. It’s a situation in which you observe an allergy-like reaction, but testing reveals no IgE antibodies. I use the term food sensitivity for this, though you might also hear the term “intolerance” or “reaction” used as well.

Within the category of Food Sensitivity there are 2 sub-types of reaction to know about: reactions that are driven by the immune system and reactions that aren’t.

Immune-Driven Food Sensitivities

These are food sensitivities that don’t involve the Immunoglobulin E part of the immune system, but they do involve other immunoglobulins, like ImmunoglobulinG or ImmunoglobulinA.

Some holistic doctors will run a blood or stool test to find out if the body’s IgG and IgA antibodies are over-reacting to certain foods. If they are, it tells us that those foods are a possible source of inflammation.

It’s important to know that tests for these antibodies are not diagnostic - rather, they are a guide for experimentation. I find that in some cases kids do better when IgG- and IgA-reactive foods are taken out for a while, in some cases there is no change. Really, the only way to know if they're actually causing a problem is to try an elimination-provocation type diet. 

Zonulin level is another useful bit of information you can test for. Zonulin was recently discovered as a protein that regulates the permeability of the intestinal wall and the blood brain barrier. If zonulin is high and IgG/IgA levels are high, it’s more likely your child will do better removing the foods indicated in the sensitivity test.

Since this is not an IgE reaction, as we improve the resilience of the body those foods that were causing irritation can often be introduced again without continuing to bother these arms of the immune system.

Non-Immune Driven Food Sensitivities

This kind of reaction involves a lack of enzymes, bacteria and sometimes nutrients needed to break down certain food compounds. These poorly broken down compounds can cause myriad symptoms and also sometimes direct stimulation of the nervous system. They will not be found on the allergy tests discussed above because immunoglobulins are not involved. Here are some examples:

Lactose intolerance happens when there is not enough of an enzyme called lactase to break down the natural sugar in milk (called lactose). Undigested lactose gets to the colon where it ferments and causes gas, diarrhea, cramping and bloating. FODMAP intolerance follows the same pattern - it's when a broader range of carbohydrates, beyond lactose, are poorly digested. Take out the carbohydrates and symptoms resolve. 

“Chinese Food Syndrome”, is another example. This is when you get a headache from MSG, which is often used in Chinese food. No MSG, no symptoms. 

Oxalate reactions are another example. Oxalates occur naturally in many healthy foods including almonds, spinach and blueberries. If oxalates build up they form crystals and cause problems. Oxalate crystals are most well known for their role in kidney stones, but new research is showing that they can cause all kinds of problems in the body including pain, delayed speech, fatigue, burning feet, bed wetting, anxiety, eye pain and more. You can test for oxalate accumulation using the Organic Acids Test - it’s not a 100% reliable indicator but it can be a guide. Genetic variants, absence of certain gut bacteria and nutrient deficiencies can lie at the root of oxalate build-up. Unlike other food irritants, oxalates must be removed gradually and you don't see improvement immediately - you need to be on a low oxalate diet for at least six months before you can decide if it's helping. 

Food Chemical Sensitivity.

Glutamate, salicylate and amines are 3 naturally-occurring chemicals found in foods can cause direct irritation when they’re not broken down well.

Symptoms can include: Hyperactivity, anxiety, sleep troubles, swelling, burning, flushing/rash, headache, heart palpitation, numbness/tingling in mouth, excessive sweating, difficulty calming down, heightened sensory sensitivity, aggression, irritability, tics, emotional outbursts, dark circles under the eyes, red face/ears, diarrhea, fatigue and lethargy, night sweats, self-injury, chronic fatigue, chewing clothes, itching, skin picking/leisions, eye pain, recurring infection, unexplained bruising.

Yea.. it's a lot. If you have reached a plateau with food sensitivities, these chemical sensitivities are the next to look at. They are particularly common in kids on the Autism Spectrum. They also tend to run in families. Do keep in mind that since there are no antibodies involved these sensitivities will not be picked up on a food allergy or food sensitivity test. 

So now what?

You can learn more about the underlying contributors to food allergy in my book, Raising Resilience.  There you'll learn why cutting foods out is a temporary solution - life saving and totally necessary in some cases - but a bandaid when you consider the entire picture (I am by no means saying that we should not protect highly allergic children from exposure to allergens. What I'm saying is that we have to looks for ways to stop this allergy train from speeding off the rails like it is).

Here's what I think parents should do...

From day one (actually from preconception, but most of us already have kids, so let's start from there) we should be thinking of two things when it comes to our kids' health - supporting their digestive system and supporting their immune functions.

Some of the ways we can do that is by...

  • offering wholesome fresh foods that are full of nutrients that support growth. More about that here
  • avoiding toxic chemicals that destroy the gut microbiome, burden the liver and stress the immune system. Watch this for strategies
  • avoiding sugar and GMOs spayed with glyphosate that might also be doing damage to the gut microbiome
  • providing our kids with probiotic foods or supplements on a regular basis. Check out this video if you're new to the idea of the microbiome
  • allowing our children's immune system to develop naturally while we support it along its way (see our SuperImmune Kids e-course - it explains exactly how to do this) 
  • know and understand the early warning signs that the digestive and immune systems are not functioning optimally and take steps to correct that by doing all the things listed above. If you are feeding a baby, you can learn all about that here.

I don't want to come across as being flippant about allergies.  Whether the symptoms are respiratory, behavioural, gastrointestinal or whatever, allergies are a serious concern.

But what's even more concerning to me is what the allergy epidemic is telling us about the immune and digestive function of our kids.  

They are failing.  And without them we have.... nothing.


Reference: Food allergy on the rise

Related: Is Early Introduction To Gluten A Good Idea?

About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist™ and Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids. She is the author of Raising Resilience: Take the stress out of feeding your family & love your life, and the creator of The Resilience Roadmap™ - a systematic process to help parents help their kids feel and function better. Her book and online resources have helped families in 44 countries improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, autism and mood disorders by helping them find hidden stressors and fit the food and feeding piece into their health puzzles. She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work helping families get healthier, and she continues to bring an understanding of the power of good nutrition to the mainstream conversation about children’s mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses and as a  contributor to print and online magazines. You can reach Jess at 

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.