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Effects of Food Allergies and Food Intolerances on
Children’s Behaviors

Food allergies affect between 5.4 to 7 million Americans with more than 1/3 being children with perhaps many more being undiagnosed. A food allergy is when your immune system reacts to a protein found in a food such as peanut or soy or wheat to name just a few. Whenever your body comes in contact with this allergen, your immune system launches an attack by releasing “histamines” which trigger the allergy response;

Symptoms: Allergy symptoms can include among others: hives, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, metallic taste in the mouth, difficulty breathing or swallowing, asthma, skin inflammation, itching, hyperactivity, and fatal anaphylaxis.

Diagnosis: Always seek the help of a Board Certified Allergist physician who could identify the allergic reaction and start an appropriate treatment. The diagnosis should include:

1.    A complete history of the symptoms, along with a list of the problem foods eaten and the portion size of each.

2.    RAST blood test ( Radio Allergo Absorbent Test) that measures antibodies to specific allergens in the blood.

3.    Skin Prick Test may also be used which involves injecting a small amount of concentrated common allergens in the skin and watching a reaction within 10 to 15 minutes.

Treatments: An epinephrine injection is the common treatment that stops the severe allergic reaction to food. If gone untreated, the severe allergy symptoms could lead to anaphylactic reaction and even to death. Antihistamines are also used to relieve milder symptoms of allergy reaction. An elimination diet is always needed in the case of most allergens like shellfish since allergies to shellfish tend to be lifelong. However, children with allergies to milk or soy or egg tend to outgrow them after childhood although behavioral symptoms seem to linger on for a few years longer. A well planned nutrition assessment along with a personalized special needs plan should be used to monitor the frequency and the intensity of the allergic symptoms for some years after the diagnosis is made.

Food Intolerance: Food Intolerance occurs when usually the digestive system negatively reacts to certain foods. A common food intolerance is to lactose (milk sugar) caused by a lack of lactase in the small intestine. Gluten and casein are common food intolerances among special needs children which are caused by lack of natural digestive enzymes; this can cause incomplete digestion of gluten and casein which literally leak into the blood circulation and travel to the brain to cause behavioral symptoms.

Symptoms: Some common physical symptoms of food intolerance are bloating, belching, gas, burping, bad breath, diarrhea, & constipation. Among behavioral symptoms of food intolerance are hyperactivity, lack of focus, severe mood swings, depression, irritability, foggy mind, nervousness, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, and inattention.

Diagnosis:  There are several testing methods available to detect food intolerances each with varying degree of specificity.

1.    Urine peptide test which can be skewed as some peptides of soy protein for example, can inhibit the break down of other peptides.

2.    Antibody antigen test (blood test) which could only pick up the antibodies to a food that causes a large reaction. In case a child has a depressed immune system, the antibody reaction will be small thus indicating a low response while the child is indeed very intolerant to gluten or casein proteins.

3.     A comprehensive genetic sensitivity stool test for gluten and casein which could pick up even a partial leaky gut in a child or an adult with special needs.

Treatment: An individualized nutrition and dietary plan must be drawn by a special needs nutritionist to meet the person’s specific mineral, vitamin and nutrient needs. It is important to note that when the body becomes deficient in vital nutrients, there is a natural search in the environment for other non-natural sources of such nutrients which explains the attraction by many special needs children to licking keys, door knobs, lead pencils, metal and heavy metal toy parts such as screws, nails, rings, chains etc…This automatic ingestion of heavy metals leads to symptoms that prevent recovery and cause more symptoms such as irritability, depression, mood swings, chronic fatigue, anxiety, impatience, lack of attention, lack of expressive language, developmental delays, etc…

In particular, many children with special needs develop copper and cadmium toxicity as a result of zinc deficiency. This results in many serious conditions such as attention deficit disorder, foggy mind, irritability, lack of appetite, constipation, insomnia, or autistic-like symptoms such as flapping of the hands, screaming, hand shaking, toe walking, etc…

For this reason, organic, allergen-free, toxin-free foods are recommended to lower the toxicity levels as good nutrients are introduced to repair the nutritional deficiencies. Some children with special needs require compounded vitamins and minerals 100 times the recommended daily allowance to correct the congenital and environmental deficiencies present in their bodies.

Note that before any nutritional intervention is started, a comprehensive lab panel and nutrition assessment have to be done to identify the individual nutrient imbalances and only then a carefully planned supplement and dietary program should be designed and implemented that fit those specific imbalances.


About the author…

Faye Elahi, M.S., M.A. has a Masters degree in Nutrition from the Texas Woman’s University and a Masters degree in Child Psychology from the University of Nice, France. She has been a nutritionist for 18 years practicing in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. She has seen over 1000 Special needs children in her two clinics since 2002. She has spoken at various conferences on the topic of Special Needs Diets and is currently an advisor to two Celiac support groups in Dallas and Tyler, Texas. Her clients span from Canada, Europe, Middle East to North and South America. She is recognized by the North Texas Digestive Associate Gastroenterologists as the Nutritionist of choice to refer complex cases of Celiac or other genetic dietary diseases. Faye can be reached for private nutrition consultation in her Plano office at: (214) 437-1297.

Related News Article:

Food allergy in irritable bowel syndrome: new facts and old fallacies, E Isolauri, S Rautava, M Kallioma¨ki

 The notion of food allergy in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is not new. However, recent evidence suggests significant reduction in IBS symptom severity in patients on elimination diets, provided that dietary elimination is based on foods against which the individual had raised IgG antibodies. These findings should encourage studies dissecting the mechanisms responsible for IgG production against dietary antigens and their putative role in IBS

Link to full article on (IBS):