Will and Claire
After months of trying, Will and Claire were finally pregnant. Like most first-time parents, the couple was initially ecstatic then terrified when the pregnancy test showed positive results. Raising a child is a huge responsibility and the couple wants to do everything they can to foster a positive, healthy environment. They resolved to read as many prenatal care books they could get their hands on and pay greater attention to their diets.
Among the standard diet and exercise tips, Will and Claire uncovered truly startling information. Many of their friends had infants or young children with eczema, asthma, skin rashes and food allergies. The couple thought food allergies were just acute and immediate reactions to bee stings and peanuts. However, they soon learned from a friend with a gluten food allergy that allergies can develop slowly over time, and the symptoms can manifest themselves all over the body. How did certain foods, such as gluten, dairy, peanuts, eggs, and soy, become so physiologically destructive? These foods supposedly have many health benefits - why do some individuals develop such strong aversions to them, and how have these aversions developed over human history? Also, why was infant health so varied, even among parents that seemed relatively healthy? Will and Claire began to dig deeper.
A Brief History of the Human Diet
Humans began eating grains, legumes and potatoes about 10,000 years ago when we discovered the joy of cooking. Julia Child would have been repulsed by early man's unimaginative diet consisting of meat, fish, poultry, leaves, roots and fruits. Fortunately for French cuisine aficionados and unfortunately for some digestive systems, grains, legumes and potatoes became dietary staples. Humans learned to grow and store their own food. They learned to raise animals and produce cheese and yogurt. It was no longer necessary to constantly hunt and gather- there was now time for art, science, music, and gastrointestinal disorders. Modern civilization was born.
Why do Dietary Staples Cause Allergies?
What can disable effective digestion of grains, legumes and potatoes? Lectins. Lectins are proteins found in most plants, and all foods. They serve a variety of beneficial functions from controlling the blood's protein levels to targeting and eliminating pathogens. The problem with lectins is that some of them trigger immune reactions in sensitive digestive systems. The issue lies less with the lectins and more with the digestive tract's inability to fully break down the proteins found in food. Soy, peanut and gluten lectins have proven to be the most difficult for the human body to digest. The body’s inability to completely digest these foods creates stress in the intestines. This continued stress is what creates the environment that ultimately gives way to a food allergy.
Too Many Lectins Spring a Leaky Gut
Detrimental lectins and food allergens trigger inflammation in the digestive tract. Leaky gut syndrome refers to digestive disturbances and infections caused by severe inflammation of the intestine. This inflammation creates increased permeability in the walls of the intestines. Partially digested food enters into the blood stream through small openings between the cells in the intestinal lining where it is met by a hostile immune system. The body produces an increasing amount of antibodies to fight the food we eat, and the food bound with the antibody continually pass from the intestine to the blood stream. By removing the allergen(s), we can heal our “leaky” guts and begin the process of improved health.
Though these lectins may be causing damage to our digestive system, we may not realize until days, weeks or years later. The symptoms can be confusing. One might think that an upset stomach would be the obvious result of a “leaky gut,” however symptoms can actually manifest throughout the body. From depression to migraines to acne to Crohn's disease, the symptoms are extremely varied. This is surprising to some. However, when we remember that 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, the appearance of wide-spread symptoms no longer seems so shocking. Will and Claire were startled by how common food allergies and “leaky guts” are in the United States. Even more startling was how easily these digestive disorders can be passed from generation to generation.
7 Symptoms of an Infant with Food Allergies: What Every Parent Should Know
1. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation, bloody stools
2. Hives, eczema, asthma
3. Prolonged colic, crying, inability to sleep at night
4. Poor growth, failure to thrive, inability to properly absorb nutrients
5. Acid reflux
6. Congestion of nose or chest, excessive spitting
7. Head banging, crib rocking
How Infants Develop Food Allergies
After exhaustively researching food allergies, Will and Claire turned their energy towards uncovering how children develop them. Three findings were particularly astonishing.
1. Infants born through Cesarian section may have added risk of food allergy development.
According to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, mothers with food allergies are seven times more likely to transmit their food allergies to their children when they have Cesarean sections. Dr. Merete Eggesbo, of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, notes that Cesarian sections may delay the growth of normal intestinal flora- bacteria that lines the intestine- in new born infants.
2. When a mother does not have any food allergies, her breast milk may protect her child from developing a food allergy themselves. However...
3. Infants may develop food allergies through breast milk from a mother with a food allergy.
There are numerous cases of breast-fed children who exhibit failure-to-thrive symptoms such as diarrhea, constant irritability, etc. When the allergen is removed from the mother's diet, the infant's symptoms often disappear.
4. For the most part allergies are acquired, however a gluten food allergy can beinherited. It is particularly important to test yourself and your child for gluten allergies. A case that remains undetected by the age of 10 leads to a one in four chance of developing an autoimmune disease like diabetes.
5. Children do not outgrow allergies to gluten. This is why getting tested prior to giving birth is important, especially for mothers. Discovering your own gluten allergy may prevent it from spreading to your infant.
How Can we Protect Our Children, and Ourselves?
Suddenly, the removal of an entire food group no longer seemed so extreme. Claire and Will decided they should get tested for food allergies. The following are some of the most common food allergy tests currently available.
Will and Claire