How to Raise Healthy Families: What Parents Must Know about Immune System Barriers

Raising a child is one of the most challenging and rewarding life experiences. However, as the technological age allows us access to boundless information, making healthful decisions for our families seems to become increasingly difficult. Particularly confusing and complex are decisions about diet and lifestyle. We understand more about the biochemical effects of food to a greater degree than ever before, yet Americans are increasingly challenged by preventable chronic disease. How can we help our children, and our selves, to navigate the competing arguments about what we should eat for dinner?
 
Since 1998, there has been a 265% increase in hospitalizations related to food allergies among children under 18, according to a 2008 CDC report. With an 18% increase in food allergies between 1997 and 2007, an unbelievable 3 million children now have food allergies. Food allergies, which complicate and often compromise the digestive process, are instrumental in poor nutrient absorption, leading to health problems throughout the body. More and more studies point to our digestive system and emotional distress in the development of skin and respiratory issues, not to mention autoimmune disorders. This month’s newsletter is about the gut-brain-skin-lung axis, and how understanding the relationship between these not-so-separate parts of our body contributes to our emotional and physical well-being.
 
History of Chronic Skin Conditions and Mental Health Disorders
The connection between chronic skin conditions and mental health disorders has long been recognized. The 70-year-old gut-brain-skin unifying theory was first discussed by western medical practitioners in 1930 by the dermatologists John H. Stokes and Donald M. Pillsbury, in The effect on the skin of emotional and nervous states: theoretical and practical consideration of a gastrointestinal mechanism. The authors recommended bacterial remedies such as Bacillus acidophilus and cod liver oil. These and other bacterial substances are now referred to as probiotics.
 
History of Chronic Respiratory Conditions and Mental Health Disorders
When we are stressed our breath becomes faster and shallower. Conversely, if we breathe rapidly our level of anxiety increases. The correlation between respiration and mood is apparent in our fight-or-flight response to a stressful event. However, scientists and medical practitioners increasingly point to stress as a major contributing factor to the onset of respiratory disease. Psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 patients as a way to determine whether stress had influenced their illnesses. Their results were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), or the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, a scale that found a positive correlation between stressful life events and physiological ailments. More recent studies, such as those conducted by Isenberg et. al (2009) have correlated bronchial constriction and stress in cases of asthma.
 
(1) Skin-Gut, (2) Lung-Gut, (3) Brain-Gut Connection
 In 1967, psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe inspired health practitioners everywhere to consider stress as a major factor in the onset of any physiological disorder. As technology improved over the years a new generation of scientists has demonstrated the correlation between 1) skin and gastrointestinal distress and 2) the lungs, or respiratory system, and gastrointestinal distress, and 3) emotional and gastrointestinal distress. Since 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract, it is unsurprising that our bodies are affected by what we eat and absorb.
 
1) Skin and gastrointestinal distress: 
Acne. One study by Zhang et. al published in the Journal of Dermatology in 2008 involving over 13,000 adolescents showed that those with acne more often experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, halitosis, and gastric reflux. In the same study, abdominal bloating was 37% more likely to be associated with acne, eczema and other skin diseases.
Psoriasis. John Pagano writes in Healing Psoriasis: The Natural Alternative (2008) that “psoriasis is the external manifestation of the body's attempt to “throw off” internal toxins. In other words...the skin is doing what the bowels and the kidneys should be doing.”
Eczema. Though there are a variety of causes, one of the main contributors to chronic eczema is an allergy to dairy. This is especially true in children.
 
2) Respiratory and gastrointestinal distress
It has been proven that food allergies cause such respiratory disorders as rhinorrhea and sneezing, nasal congestion, wheezing, coughing, stridor, dyspnea and asthma.
Asthma. Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by airway spasm and inflammation. It is often triggered by environmental factors, infections, food allergies, exercise, temperature changes and other potential irritants. Discovering and removing food allergens can ameliorate digestive issues contributing to mild to severe cases of asthma.
General congestion and symptoms of a cold. According to the University of Maryland, congestion is a result of inflammation in the sinus cavity which leads to irritated and swollen sinuses. Discovering and removing the offending food can clear up cold-like symptoms.
Dyspnea. Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is often caused by an undiagnosed food allergy.
 
3) Emotional and gastrointestinal distress: 
Stress severely alters intestinal functionality.Studies, such as those by Wang et al in World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005, have shown that psychological distress stalls normal intestinal transit time, spurs an overgrowth of unhealthful bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier.
Increased gut permeability found in those with depression.New findings by Maes, Kubera and Leunis in Neuro Endocrinology Letters (2008) correlate a leaky gut and intestinal distress with emotional disorders.
 
Why and Where Do These Gut-Brain-Skin-Lung Axis Breakdowns Occur?
We have evidence that supports the gut-brain-skin-lung axis, but why do these breakdowns in this normally healthy alliance occur? Investigations point to nutrition and lifestyle choices that are easily changed with proper analysis and diagnosis.
 
1) Unbalanced intestinal microflora. Though very few English-language health journals touch on this subject, much has been written in Europe. One Russian investigation by Volkova, Khalif and Kabanova in 2001 reported that 54% of acne patients have drastically altered intestinal microflora - they lack healthful microbes.
2) Unhealthful foods that are sugary, fried, calorie-rich and low in nutrients. Again, few studies in the United States deal with this subject matter. But many international scientists are increasingly convinced that consumption of sweet, fried, dense and nutrient- absent foods are major contributors to skin conditions.
3)Consumption of unfermented dairy products, especially processed or homogenized varieties. Many studies, such as the work by Melnik and Schmitz (2009), also find correlations between dairy from cows that were administered unnatural hormones to be particularly detrimental to our digestive tract, emotional well-being, skin organ, and respiratory system. It is interesting to note that there have been no notable studies linking fermented milk products (i.e. yogurt) with similar health issues.
4) Food allergies. Consumption of foods that trigger latent allergic reactions are responsible for a wide variety of systemic reactions including, but not limited to, eczema, psoriasis, acne, and asthma. Even autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or neurological disorders such as ADD/ADHD can be caused by consumption of an allergen.
 
Childhood: A Critical Time 
It's important to teach our children not only to eat their vegetables, but also to listen to the messages their bodies send. If they feel depressed, anxious, or have a case of eczema, acne, or asthma, their body is telling them that something is wrong. With proper dietary and lifestyle changes, physical and emotional well-being can be improved. Our children will not be children for much longer. As parents, we have the responsibility to counsel and support our children through hardships to prepare them to do it alone in the future. Give your child as many tools as possible so they more gracefully navigate their coming-of-age years and avoid chronic emotional and physical conditions.
 
The Gut-Brain-Skin-Lung Axis: Not Just for Kids
The gut-brain-skin axis applies to adults, as well. Acne, psoriasis, eczema, asthma and dyspnea are just a few examples of many possible manifestations of disruptions in our bodies or emotions. Other possible manifestations include:
 
1. Neurological disorders such as Parkinson's, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, numbness, tingly extremities.
2. Stomach bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence.
3. GI disorders including, Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis & IBS
4. Tiredness, drowsiness, no energy.
5. Frequent headache or migraines.
 
Help your Child Grow into a Healthy Adult
The best way to help our families and ourselves is to undergo food allergy testing, eat natural and organic foods, and avoid environmental toxins – both emotional and physical. The ALCAT (antigen leukocyte cellular antibody test) is a simple and cost-effect food allergy test which can quickly determine which offending foods may be causing behavioral, mental and physical issues in your body. The test identifies physiological reactions to over 350 foods, chemicals and other potential inflammation triggers. This food allergy test is available at Ann Arbor Holistic Health and Digestive Health Ann Arbor.
 
Raising a child can be challenging, but it can also be an opportunity for personal growth. Take your family's health seriously and pay attention to the body's messages - your children will thank you.
 
Please call 734-222-8210 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation.  
 
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