How I helped my kids grow out of food allergies…
While kids are little, food allergies are more of an inconvenience but as they get older, safety is a major concern. Statistics show teenagers are at the highest risk for fatal, food-induced anaphylactic reactions. Every time I see the school phone number show up on my incoming call, my heart panics.
What was of particular concern to me is statistics showing children with food allergies are outgrowing them much slower, with a longer persistence of food allergies into adulthood. 8 years ago I was told that there was nothing I can do to help Sarah outgrow her allergies – the only thing I could do was to avoid the foods she was allergic to. It was quite disheartening to hear and I started a journey in search of things that MIGHT help her.
Here, I share things I found and adopted. They may not work for everyone and you should consult a doctor for advice before starting them in case your child has a medical condition that prohibits any of the below.
Also, bear in mind none of these are ‘quick cures’ – it takes patience and perseverance to make changes to the body. I have been giving my kids probiotics for years, WAY before the gut microbiome became popular and they are reaping the benefits now.
As discussed in ‘Why is allergy on the rise?’, modern day living, use of antibiotics (this includes antibiotics fed to the livestock we eat!), GMO, and a low-fibre high-fat diet has altered the gut microbiome and knocked the healthy balance of bacteria that protect us.
In 2011, Canani and his team at University of Naples Federico II showed that infants with cow’s milk allergy who are fed formula supplemented with the probiotic bacterial species Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) develop tolerance (i.e. outgrow their milk allergy) at a higher rate than those treated with non-probiotic formula. Further, more recently, it has been shown that the gut bacteria of infants who achieved tolerance to milk after supplementation is different to those who remained allergic.
The Swansea study (UK) showed that babies whose mothers took a probiotic in the last trimester of pregnancy, and was given it for the first 6 months of their lives were 57% less likely to develop eczema, and 44% less likely to be allergic to common allergens (including pollen, egg, cow’s milk, and house dust mite). The probiotics used in this study was the Lab4 mix: Lactobacillus salivarius; Lactobacillus paracasei, Bifidobacterium animalis subs. lactis and Bifidobacterium bifidum.
The benefits of probiotics are not just limited to allergy prevention – it has also been shown to reduce respiratory tract infections (ProChild study), colds & flu symptoms and tummy upsets. It helps symptoms of irritable bowel and inflammatory bowel diseases, and so on….
I have been giving probiotics to both my kids since they were 6 months old. It is difficult to say if it has definitely contributed to Sarah outgrowing all her allergies, and Thomas outgrowing some of his. Even if it has done nothing to help them outgrow their allergies, I feel it has definitely helped them build a stronger immune system.
Seek medical advice before you start probiotics if you/your child has a medical condition.
Increase Vegetable/fibre intake
Hold that thought on those burgers….
It is all very well giving probiotics powder or capsules to your kids but if their diets consist of highly processed, low fibre foods, these expensive bacteria you have just washed into their guts won’t survive or stay in the gut…because your diet shapes the bacteria that live in your gut. Fibre is also broken down into important short-chain fatty acids in the gut which in turn support the function of important immune cells which present food allergens to the immune system.
Research in 2010 by Lionetti compared faecal microbiome (friendly bacteria detected in the stools) of European children living in Florence (Italy), and rural African children from a village called Burkina Faso (BF). Children from BF ate a high fibre, vegetable-dominant diet. They found very different bacteria in their stools. The bacteria dominant in BF children’s stools are Bacteroidetes, which are known to be excellent at breaking down fibrous foods and producing short-chain fatty acids (and there is now evidence that a high short chain fatty acid concentration in the gut is associated with reduced allergies and inflammation because they aid the function of immune cells).
In particular, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, which contain probiotics, vitamins and the prebiotics which the probiotics need to feed on and thrive. (I know, I know, not your usual kid-friendly foods and I can hear screams of “but how do I get my kids to eat those things!!” – kimchi may be tricky and I still can’t get my kids to eat this but I will give you tips on how to ‘hide’ some other healthy fermented foods later) Make sure the fermented food has been ‘lacto-fermented’ i.e. fermented the traditional way by letting natural bacteria present in the food feed, produce acids, and ferment, rather than supermarket ‘pickles’ which have simply been soaked in vinegar and may have been treated in a way to extend shelf life which actually then kills the probiotics.
So what you eat is essential in maintaining the correct balance of healthy bacteria, and it is possible to alter the microbiome by changing your diet.
It can be a fine balance between fibre and calorie intake in kids, though – you want to make sure their gut is healthy, but not at the expense of calorie intake which may then impact their growth– so if in doubt, speak to a dietician. I ensured the kids have freshly cooked vegetables or salad with every meal, and have a smoothie every day as their snack in the afternoons.
The evidence between omega 3 and allergy reduction is not as rigorous as it is for probiotics, however, there are some studies showing that omega 3 supplementation can reduce the incidence of asthma, skin-prick positive reaction to egg, and hay fever symptoms. However, these are not definitive and the jury is still out.
Omega 3 can confer other benefits though, namely brain development and reduced inflammation in the body. So I supplemented my kids with omega 3 (DHA and EPA) extracted from algae from the age of 6 months (fish contains omega 3 because they get it from eating algae). I chose the algae-extracted omega 3 because of the theoretical risk of heavy metal build-up from fish, and also I did not know if they were allergic to fish at the time.
Even if it did nothing to help their allergies, it would help their brain and eye function!
Be careful with fish oil supplements if your child is allergic to fish/seafood. Also – check it is suitable for children and follow the dose recommendations for age.
Again, this has not been widely researched in studies, but I believe Vitamin A plays an important role in the integrity of the immune system at the gut surface. I never supplemented my kids with vitamin A though, as vitamin A in excess can be toxic (and particularly in pregnancy so make sure you don’t take supplements containing vitamin A when pregnant!) but I ensured they ate it frequently in their diet. It was lucky that they both love carrots and dried apricots! Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin – so I normally saute carrots in coconut oil to help absorption.
There have been a few studies which observed that there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and allergy. An Australian study in 2013 found that a low level of vitamin D level in infants is related to a higher incidence of egg and peanut allergy, and we already know that areas further from the equator have higher rates of childhood food allergy-related hospital admissions, epinephrine injector prescriptions and peanut allergy than areas closer to the equator. There is also a higher incidence of allergy in children born in winter months.
Research has also suggested children and adults with eczema are more likely to have low levels of vitamin D, and low vitamin D level has also been linked to more severe skin symptoms and infections on eczema skin.
Again there is not a huge amount of rigorous evidence to show a link, and there are conflicting trials which show the reverse. However, knowing that up to 50% of western countries are vitamin D deficient, sensible exposure to the sun to increase vitamin D level may not be a bad idea and have other health benefits! But make sure you are careful to avoid sunburn and skin damage which may then lead to skin cancer.