Go with your gut: allergy testing and assessment
Allergy testing is no easy task. Natasha Berman and Asti Renaut share their inside knowledge for the benefit of fledgling food detectives.
If you have a suspicion that an unknown food may be triggering unwanted symptoms in your child, the obvious next step is trying to find out which food is the culprit. It’s important to understand that there are many different ways in which a child can be reactive, and a true allergy is only one of these ways. Trying to be a food detective will drive any parent a bit bonkers, so be sure to seek out the right help when you need it!
Allergies happen when your child’s immune system launches a specific antibody response against a foreign substance it has seen before. Allergies can be to anything – grasses, pollens, foods, medicines and cat hair, to list a few. Allergic reactions, also known as Type 1 Immediate Hypersensitivity Reactions, involve IgE antibodies and are fast and furious! Usually you know what the triggers are because reactions occur quickly and are clearly apparent, like when your child says their throat is all itchy after eating hazelnuts, or the welts appear after eating strawberries. If you don’t know, however, you can get skin-prick tests or RAST (radioallergosorbent) blood tests to detect this specific IgE response. Other antibodies can be made against foods and environmental irritants, such as IgG antibodies, which take longer to make themselves known, producing a delayed reaction. Just because you have IgG antibodies to something, however, it doesn’t always mean that food will trigger a reaction. Confused? Wait, there’s more!
Antibodies aren’t even always involved in reactivity, and nor is the immune system. Sometimes low levels of specific enzymes lead to the inability to break down certain food substances like histamines, lactose or FODMAPs (fructo, oligo, di-saccharides, mono saccharides and polyols). Sometimes the specific mechanisms of reactivity aren’t understood, but this doesn’t make them any less real. There are many ways to be reactive, so being a food detective can be a tricky task!
While antibody testing is extremely useful for detecting true allergies, it will often come up short when testing for intolerances or sensitivities because this isn’t what the test is designed for. Often parents seek naturopathic support for investigating their children’s reactivities because other forms of testing haven’t come up with any clear answers, yet they know in their gut that something isn’t right. Naturopathic testing options are safe, non-invasive and highly sensitive, offering insight into possible dietary triggers of health problems.
Allergenics hair testing is suitable for babies (even exclusively breastfed ones), infants and small children, as well as adults. The test is simple. Results take around two weeks. Children with diverse symptoms can benefit from this approach, including those with eczema, rashes, recurrent infections and digestive issues. Having clarity around triggers is the first important step.
There is help and there is hope
A reactive child may have multiple trigger foods, but this isn’t a life sentence! One of the most important points to make is that, while true allergies can be life-long (in some cases), reactivities are often not. This is especially true when under the care of a naturopath or health practitioner, who will guide you through a process of removing, rebalancing and re-introducing. This involves removing the trigger foods for a period of time; rebalancing immune function, nutrient levels and gut flora, and generally healing and re-balancing the body; and then systematically re-introducing the removed foods.
This process is unique to each person. Unfortunately, many people simply take foods out of their diets and never do the work to determine why they are sensitive in the first place. Dietary restriction is not a long-term solution, and excluding foods from the diet must be done with real care and knowledge, especially where small children are concerned. The aim is always to build more tolerance, to be able to eat a wider variety of foods and be less sensitive and reactive, growing robust and healthy children!
Natasha Berman and Asti Renaut are naturopaths and medical herbalists. Natasha runs Qbaby in Auckland and specialises in post-natal support to mums and bubs. Asti, who works in the same field, runs her office in Christchurch. qbaby.co.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 42 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW