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Food Allergy and Food Antibody Testing For Kids – What Works?

Food Allergy and Food Antibody Testing For Kids – What Works?

Have you done food allergy tests or food antibody tests for your kids, but aren’t sure what it all meant? Tried elimination diets to remove the reactive foods, but didn’t see results?

Scratch tests, IgE blood draw, IgG food sensitivity, skin prick testing, Mediator Release Testing (MRT), and more – there are many ways to assess food reactions, food allergies, and food sensitivities.

It gets confusing. There are different types of reactions to foods, different ways to assess these, and possibly, different inter-actions between food and gut microbes that aren’t well studied. For example: In some cases, it’s unclear if the food is the issue, or if symptoms are due to an imbalanced gut microbe that eats the food – causing production of toxins from disruptive microbes that lead to symptoms. In many cases, I’ve found that just balancing gut microbiome allows a child to eat a food that was suspect for reaction.

In general, mainstream medicine – that is, your MD allergist – only recognizes one type of food reaction (hives, anaphylaxis), and typically only recognizes drug treatments with avoidance of the extreme triggers. That’s all well and good …if that is what your child needs. But what about all the other symptoms and reactions that don’t need the Epi Pen, Zyrtec, steroids, or other drugs? Symptoms that leave your kids feeling lousy with painful gas, bloating, mixed irritable stools that swing between mucousy loose stuff or hard pebbles, chronic stomach aches, migraines, headaches, joint pain, frequent colds or rhinitis, acne, eczema, asthma, hives or rashes that come and go, trouble with focus and attention… All of these can come from reactions to foods your child eats on the regular. How do you sort it out?

Because an MD allergist will only screen for food allergy (with skin prick testing or blood draw for IgE reactions), many kids go without correct diagnosis and continue to feel lousy, for no reason. Food allergy is only one type of reaction to a food. At the very least, there are three types of food reactions:

1) Food intolerances: Food intolerances may or may not involve the immune system.

  • They occur without immune response when we lack enzymes needed to break down certain foods. An example would be lactose intolerance, where the body can’t break down the milk sugar lactose. The result is gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Rashes are usually absent (except perhaps diaper rash, from the skin-irritating loose stools). Kids who are lactose intolerance can often manage yogurt (because the lactose has been fermented into smaller sugars), Lactaid products (because the lactose has been enzymatically treated in manufacturing), or harder cheeses (which don’t contain as much lactose as softer cheeses) –  but not regular ice cream, fluid milk, frozen custard, or other products with a lot of milk or softer cheese (because these still contain lactose).
  • Another example of food intolerance due to poor enzymatic action on a food component is when opiate like peptides are absorbed from food proteins. If you’ve got a super picky eater, this may be your problem. Learn more here.
  • Food intolerances can also happen with immune involvement when too much histamine is made. In this scenario, IgE or hives to a food can be negative, but tingling, stomach pain, or reflux may ensue. This can be part of mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS). Mast cells are white blood cells that help regulate the immune system and are responsible for histamine release. A human stomach has mast cells scattered throughout its lining, where they play a role in regulating stomach acid secretion (we need strong acid to break down food and prepare it for the small intestine). In fact, mast cells can be found along all of the GI tract. A variety of conditions – including chronic exposure to a triggering food – can disrupt mast cell function so that too much histamine is released.

2) Food allergies: Food allergies do involve the immune system. They occur when the body creates IgE antibodies to a food, which then trigger the release of histamine and other pro-inflammatory mediators from mast cells next time you eat that food. These reactions are typically rapid, occurring within minutes or hours. An example would be a peanut allergy that causes swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing.

3) Food sensitivities: Food sensitivities ALSO involve the immune system, but not IgE antibodies.

  • Food sensitivities may involve IgG antibodies instead, in which an IgG antibody is made to a food. This can create a delayed reaction that might play out several hours or even a day or two after eating the food. The reaction can be dull pain, loosened stool, explosive stool, mild rash, migraine, behavior changes, bloating, gradual build up of eczema, or mild congestion.
  • Food sensitivities can also occur when white blood cells might react to a food protein, additive, or chemical, and release pro-inflammatory chemicals known as “mediators” into the bloodstream, which cause symptoms throughout the body. These reactions are often delayed and dose-dependent.
  • An example of either would be a gluten sensitivity that causes stomach aches, diarrhea, or brain fog the day after eating a moderate amount of wheat; a strong behavioral reaction to food colors or artificial ingredients; or eczema that comes and goes, but improves dramatically once a trigger food is removed.

Any one of, or all of these, can happen at the same time!

How To Tackle It All – Where to start? Here are five steps to get rolling.

  1. Get IgE and skin prick testing done with your MD allergist. Rule out the big offenders this way. If there are multiple positives, start only by removing the most serious offenders that are actually life threatening to eat, or that cause significant discomfort (vomiting, hives, diarrhea, stomach pain). If some of the positives are tolerable to eat, keep them in rotation.
  2. If working with your allergist MD doesn’t give resolution or if symptoms persist and food allergy screening was negative, move on to IgG food antibody testing. As above, work with only the top two or three high offenders on your findings. This testing is my preference – tho white blood cell media release tests (MRT) are also popular among some practitioners, I have found in my practice with children – especially young children – that MRT is an over-sensitive test that doesn’t yield the actionable information I need to organize and build a supportive, growth-worthy food intake for a child.
  3. Remove an offending food completely only if:
    • eating it is life threatening (ER visit, Epi Pen, hives)
    • your child eats it every single day (give the body a break from it for two months to start)
    • your child has significant and noticeable impact from that food. This can mean impact on mood, volatility, and attention and focus as much as stomach pain or stool changes that are untenable.
    • always replace a withdrawn food with another one of equal or better nutritional value. For example if replacing cows milk with almond milk, you must add protein and a fat source because there is little protein or fat in almond milk. Use a clean collagen boost and some coconut milk or MCT oil and blend as a shake, or give extra servings of chicken, eggs, avocado, ghee, grass fed beef, or nut/seed butters if safe. You can also ask your provider about elemental formulas if your child has multiple food allergies.
  4. Work with high potency probiotics, especially histamine degrading strains: Lactobacillus reteuri, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus rhamnosus to name a few, plus Bifido strains. Start low, with a 10 billion CFU dose daily and if possible work up to 50 or 100 billion CFU daily. Use probiotics year round.
  5. Keep good anti-inflammatory supplements in rotation. These can be used even if your child uses medications like antihistamines or steroids, always let your doctor know:
    • DHA fish oils to 800-2000 mg/day (many liquids available)
    • curcumin and turmeric 400-1200 mg/day
    • D-Hist Junior chewables, 2-6/day (quercetin, N-Acetyl cysteine, nettles, vitamin C)

If you’re using one, give an elimination trial a go for a solid six months. Food proteins like gluten and casein (milk protein) are especially good at triggering all kinds of reactions at the same time, so elimination trials will only work with those proteins if you do it for 4-6 month duration; have zero known cheats including trace amounts in processed foods; also avoid pea protein concentrates at the same time (think Ripple Milk, Daiya cheese, or most “vegan” protein bars, powders and drinks), which look a lot like gluten and casein to the gut; and eat strong replacements for these foods (plain almond milk and French fries won’t cut it!).

If you’ve achieved that, and it’s smooth sailing, go for the re-introduction trial. See how it goes! If you’ve got leaky gut resolved – this is what got the food reactions going to begin with – you won’t see the reactions return. If you’re part of the way there, you’ll see a slow build up of those old symptoms after your child resumes eating the old offenders. In that case, you can judge if you want to continue elimination diet, rotation diet, and/or how much support with anti-inflammatory tools like probiotics you can use ongoing. Good luck and share your experiences below!

Natural and Nutrition Supports During Fever

Natural and Nutrition Supports During Fever

Fever is a mainstay line of defense for the immune system. But you could say we’ve become afraid of fever, as we are told to make it go away when our kids have one – as though the fever itself is a bad thing.

The truth is, fever is one of the body’s many brilliant means to disable a pathogen. It’s not something to be afraid of. And mounting a vigorous fever is a beneficial component for a child’s adaptive immunity to develop. For example, a 104 F degree fever (~40 degree C) will cause a 200-fold reduction in replication rate of some viruses. Powerful stuff!

So why are we told to use drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol aka paracemetol) to make it go away, especially in kids? I’m surprised to hear parents in my pediatric nutrition practice report that this is still encouraged, especially with vaccination – where evidence has emerged across many investigations that acetominophen reduces immune response to vaccines – making vaccination among the worst times to use it.

Let’s go there for a moment. There has been quite a fiasco over the use of Tylenol in children, and not without reason. For starters, giving acetominophen with fever is problematic. While the body is endeavoring to raise its temperature as a means of attack against a pathogen, Tylenol will un-do the process by lowering temperature and can thus prolong infection and inflammation.

Second, Tylenol quickly depletes glutathione, a natural peptide made by the body as key detoxifier and free radical scavenger. This means it lowers glutathione right when we may need it most, potentially enhancing the toxicity of whatever the body is grappling with.

Tylenol use – especially in toddlerhood when multiple vaccine visits are compulsory, or during pregnancy – has shown an association with the development of autism later on.

Giving Tylenol, plus eating RoundUp (aka glyphosate – the abundant and ubiquitous agricultural herbicide in our food supply, including infant formulas), plus using antibiotics, can create a perfect storm with the power to alter gene expression such that the end result is predictive for autism. No single “gene for autism” has ever been identified, despite years of hopeful searching and untold sums of money spent in the hunt. We know that autism isn’t solely genetic in origin. Rather, there are groups of genes that will be expressed differently, if environmentally challenged with toxins, antigens, or infections at vulnerable moments (like in utero or infancy or toddlerhood). If the gene expression is altered under the “right” conditions (that is, frequent toxic and immune challenges), autism or other neurodevelopmental can result.

Back to fever. What can you do about it, and when to step in?

  • Stay in touch with your doctor for close monitoring when your child has a fever.
  • A normal fever is between 100-104 degrees. If it climbs higher, be in closer touch with your doctor on next steps.
  • Newborns should never have fevers – if your baby is less than 3 or 4 months old and has a fever over 100 degrees, let your doctor know right away.
  • Some natural tools to manage fever and discomfort are…
    • Curcumin, available in liquids and chewable gummies, can reduce inflammation and soften pain. Nordic Naturals Curcumin Gummies or Apex Turmero Liquid are easy for toddlers and school aged children to use.
    • Magnesium is another useful pain reliever especially for muscle aches and pains. It’s available in topical lotions like Cooks Organics Creme, as Epsom Salts in a tepid bath soak, or can be used orally in liquid suspensions like Blue Bonnet Liquid Cal-Mag.
    • Calcium lactate is a fast absorbed form calcium that can actually reduce fever in a beneficial way. During fever, as muscle tissue warms, calcium is leached from bones in a free unbound form called ionized calcium. This activates white blood cells which in turn mount their attack on invading bacteria or viruses. By giving calcium lactate, you make a quick support for white blood cells at the ready rather than having to leach it out of bone through fever. I have many anecdotes from clients for the success of this practice, which may also reduce the likelihood of febrile seizures. 100-200 mg calcium lactate every hour or two til fever drops is usually effective. Standard Process sells this form of calcium as a powder or in small tablets. (Milk and dairy products do not supply calcium in the right form for this task, and other forms of calcium will not work as well if at all.)
  • Homeopathic remedies can be effective for fever also. Belladonna in 30c pellets is a classic solution for a hot, rapid onset fever with bright red dry hot cheeks and flushing. These pellets are available over the counter, but it’s ideal to work with a knowledgable homeopathic practitioner when using these powerful tools. For more detail on using these in your home, see Everybody’s Guide To Homeopathic Medicine   This book was a mainstay in our home when my son was little and saved us many trips to the doctor.

What about before fever? The most important thing you can do for your child is maintain a healthy, solid growth pattern.

If you’re not sure whether your child’s growth pattern is where it should be, check this blog on underweight in children. Even small shifts away from your child’s expected progress for growth are costly when it comes to infection and illness. Growth is the single most powerful predictor of how often a child gets sick and how sick they may get – that is, severity and frequency of illness both go up when children are lapsing off their patterns for growth.

Kids don’t feel hungry during fever, which is a good thing – the body needs resources for the task of infection fighting, and doesn’t want to steer blood flow and energy toward digesting a meal. But fevers are exceptionally costly in terms of the fuel they consume – literally, heating fuel! It can’t be replenished easily during illness, which is why it is so important to keep children well fed and growing strong between infections and illness. Once illness comes calling, the reserves need to be there already.

Top nutrients for the immune system to do its work during illness, that should be well replenished before illness, are vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, iron, and total protein. Total protein doesn’t mean your kids need a hundred grams of protein a day in food (that’s too much). It means they have good tissue stores, healthy muscle tissue, and some body fat as reserves.

Iron doesn’t work well to supplement during infection, as it may increase inflammation or help microbes, which also love iron as much as we do. So make sure your child’s iron status is strong day to day (click here to learn more about when kids need iron).

Zinc however can be used during illness and doses of 30-100 mg are what I may suggest depending on a child’s weight. Vitamins A and D are stored in fatty tissue and certain types of lipid (fat) molecules in the blood. Make sure your child has ample sources of these vitamins in their day to day routines, before illness. Cod liver oil, wild caught (not farmed) salmon, organic calves liver are all good sources. Regular fish oil (minus the “liver” part) does not provide vitamins D or A, which are key for lung tissue and many facets of strong immune response to viral infections especially.

There are may herbal tools that your local naturopathic doctor is trained to use to help manage infections and illnesses. Check here to explore finding a naturopathic doctor (ND) near you.

Long short, your kids can have fevers safely and effectively, and there are a several options to support them through it. Instead of reaching for NSAIDs like acetominophen or ibuprofen, you might like trying natural and nutrition tools that work with the body to fight infection and recover handily.