by Sudha Hamilton
Food allergies and intolerances in children have become the topic du jour in parenting circles and among health professionals. Whether the increase in interest is merely a raising of awareness or the true cause of the intolerances and allergies is the preservatives, chemicals and additives found in foods separates the experts. There has also been speculation that a generally more chemical rich environment can add to susceptibility to allergies in food, with so much pressure on our immune system, it is hardly surprising that allergies are affecting children’s immature immune and digestive systems much more than in the past.
Eating organically can reduce the stress on children’s immune system, by removing the stress of unnecessary chemicals, pesticides, phosphates in the fertilisers, not to mention the practice of picking the produce unripe, not allowing the important nutrients to fully develop, providing vital nutrition for growing immune and digestive systems.
Hard to Digest
Allergies and intolerances have a different physiological base and vary in severity and implication for the child’s health. An intolerance is an unpleasant reaction to food, such as runny nose after a hot curry or a particularly antisocial aftermath to a bean casserole, some intolerances are more severe and symptoms may include bloating,
An allergy on the other hand is a function of the mast cells which are found underneath the lining of the skin, gut, lungs, nose and eyes. These cells are our protective force against worms and parasites. In allergic people, these cells react to the allergen when it presents itself. “Mast cells are like “land-mines”, and contain “bags” filled with irritant chemicals including histamine. Mast cells are armed with proteins called IgE antibodies, which act as remote sensors in the local environment”
A person allergic to peanut, for example, will have IgE antibodies capable of recognizing the shape of peanut protein (the allergen), in much the same way that a lock “recognizes” the shape of a key. When this happens, mast cells are triggered to dump their contents (such as histamine) into the tissues, causing an allergic reaction.
Kristina Hoffman Philpott, M.D. on childhood food allergies
“The most common form of food intolerance is lactose intolerance, resulting from a lactase deficiency. Lactase is an enzyme made by the cells lining the stomach. It is responsible for breaking down lactose, the simple sugar found in dairy products. The symptoms of lactose intolerance are gas, bloating, abdominal pain and sometimes diarrhoea.
The most common food allergens for American children are milk, eggs, peanuts, soybeans, wheat and fish. In adults with food allergies, the most common culprits are shellfish (such as shrimp, escargot, squid, crab and clams), peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, pine nuts and almonds), fish and eggs.
A true food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the immune system. When the immune system overreacts to a food protein, an allergic reaction may result. Food intolerances differ from allergies in that they do not involve the immune system. It is important to identify true food allergies because these reactions can be severe and even life threatening”.
Organic Baby & Toddler Cookbook
Lizzie Vann, Penguin, Camberwell, 2005.
Fundamental Physiology and Anatomy of the Digestive System
The Coeliac Society of Australia