Food sensitivities in children
I recently had a fascinating chat with our local ‘Baby Whisperer’. Natalie Ebrill has been a baby and child health nurse for many years and found that she was spending most of her time trying to help families get some sleep. She started her own business focusing on just that and has been busy ever since. What is really interesting is that she is finding the crux of helping babies and children sleep has changed significantly over the years.
She started out teaching swaddling techniques and calming bedtime routines, but lately most of her time is spent counselling families on their eating habits and food sensitivities in children. In her experience increasing numbers of babies react badly to Mum’s diet while breast feeding causing pain and settling issues. Food sensitivities in children are growing; as bottle-fed babies more frequently suffer sensitivities to the ‘usual’ formula, the toddlers and children are intolerant to what seems to be a ‘normal Australian’ diet.
I don’t know about you, but I am definitely seeing the same trend in my practice, with food sensitivities in children appearing to be involved not only in sleeping difficulties in little ones, but also symptoms like colic, reflux, digestive issues, mood swings, behaviour challenges, concentration issues and learning problems. The link between gut and brain function is well established, with 90% more information travelling through the vagus nerve going from the gut to the brain compared to the other way.
So what is a chiropractor’s role in food sensitivities in children?
From a philosophical stand-point, I feel physical, chemical and emotional triggers are well within my scope of practice and I will do my best to help the family identify and eliminate the causes recurrent nervous system stress. It is not an easy task for a family to acknowledge that their preferred diet is a problem and make the required changes to their lifestyle.They may need a lot of structure and support. I have previously mentioned a food diary as a good place to start, but from there action is needed. We need to identify what exactly needs to be removed from the diet, while making sure the child still gets essential nutrients and energy.
There are two ways to do this: 1) Food elimination and 2) blood tests:
1) Food elimination
Food elimination is the most accurate method but also the hardest. All potential sources of intolerance need to be removed completely from the diet for a period of several weeks, and then re-challenged one at a time. Sue Dengate in her book ‘Fed up’ explains the approach used by Prince Alfred Hospital, where all gluten, dairy, salicylates, nitrates and amines are removed as well as all colours, flavours, additives and preservatives.
Natasha Campbell-McBride uses a ‘caveman’ version of an elimination diet and in her inspiring book ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ goes into detail about how to restore function and heal the gut through the use of bone broths and fermented foods. FODMAP from Monash University is another elimination diet to try.
2) blood tests
Blood tests are a lot easier – if you can convince the child to have one ?. The blood sample is exposed to a variety food proteins and if we have made antibodies against these, the test will show. (This is not IgE allergy testing, but IgG and IgA food sensitivities). Bear in mind, when the blood is out of the body, it is no longer under nervous system control and you may get false positives and negatives.
In Australia chiropractors can refer directly for a food sensitivity blood test with Healthscope/clinicalabs. There are options for testing 5, 40 or 90 food groups, increasing in cost from approximately $90 – 380. Obviously the more foods tested, the more specifically you know what needs to be eliminated from the diet.
A quick and cheap option is The Food Detective, which is an in-house test you can perform in your office if you wish. A finger is pricked by a pin and a couple of drops of blood are mixed on a tray to test for sensitivities to 48 foods. The results show in about 45 minutes. It is my understanding that this is less sensitive test, but it may be a manageable start for a young child.
There are few things more important to families than a good night’s rest and good health.Thanks to you and your acknowledgement of food sensitivities in children they can have more of both.