I’ve always been concerned that western medical practitioners are quick on the draw with their prescription pads and I had further evidence in a recent consultation with a toddler who had been prescribed ongoing stomach medication from infancy to deal with chronic reflux.
The prescription was from a specialist, not just a GP. On inquiry, there had been little investigation of other options – particularly food sensitivities.
Observing the whole child
Watching the toddler in my consulting room, there seemed to be systemic issues as well. The child was in non-stop motion – a common indication of food sensitivities. Food sensitivities can be a cause of reflux, even in infancy and can be associated with ADHD diagnoses in later life.
Another piece of the jigsaw puzzle was the child’s history of possible ear infections that had been treated with antibiotics and which required prolonged use to be effective. Antibiotics destroy the good bugs in digestive systems, not just those that cause a specific infection. Poor digestive function due to inadequate gut bacteria can result in food sensitivies.
When is an ‘allergy’ not an allergy? Some people have full-on allergies to specific foods that result in immediate illness. For example, peanuts are increasingly a problem, producing anything from a skin rash to anaphylactic shock requiring hospitalisation.
Other people don’t have obvious extreme problems – but they still have more subtle sensitivities. Sensitivities can show up hours or days after eating a particular food and show up in a range of uncomfortable symptoms that appear to have no immediate cause. For example:
- reflux and heartburn
- skin rashes and itching
- darkness under the eyes
- sore eyes
- mood swings
- runny nose and an inflamed top lip
- diarrhoea or constipation
- ‘bad’ behaviours
“It’s complicated”. Some people have multiple sensitivities which accumulate. Symptoms can be really hard to track back to the underlying offending food.
Assessing food sensitivities
There are different ways to investigate for food sensitivities:
- One dietary elimination approach is removing known “common offenders” , for example the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital NSW elimination diet. This particularly targets salicylates and amines (common food irritants in a variety of foods).
- Another dietary approach is the Monash University Low FODMAP diet that is concerned with reducing poorly absorbed carbohydrates (including natural sugars) in the diet.
- Your GP can do some investigations with a blood test that can identify food/environmental sensitivities. This test identifies part of the immune system’s reactivity via IgE antibodies.
- Another aspect of the immune system that can react to foods is via the IgG antibody setup. This validated test can be done in a Naturopathic Clinic using a finger prick of blood ( Food Detective Professional) or through an approved pathology Lab.
- Some people know from experience what makes them feel worse and so can avoid or minimize these foods.
Treating sensitivities – healing the whole person
Yes, our bodies can recover over time and often we can tolerate the “offending foods” once again.
This is one model of looking at sensitivities:
Imagine our being as a bucket into which we add all sorts of interesting experiences. Some of these will feel pleasurable or desirable, others will feel stressful and overwhelming. We can keeping adding to our bucket until ‘bingo’; too much and overflow occurs – this is when we notice the uncomfortable symptoms like fatigue, moodiness, skin disorders, headaches etc.
Support the nervous system.
Treat the gut.
If we can reduce some of the overload on our system we can tolerate other aspects (like specific foods). Overload may be from adrenal fatigue due to poor sleep, anxiety or nutritional deficiencies or stimulant excess like coffee or drugs. Overload can be from a sluggish digestive system where there may be toxicity in the bowel contributing to acid waste build up and bacterial disturbance.
Other contributors to overload may be weather changes or extremes, overwork, lack of sunshine or exercise, pollution in its many forms (including electronic), genetic tendencies affecting the way we detoxify substances.
Reducing/managing some of these overloads better can allow our ‘bucket’ to operate more smoothly, containing the normal ebb and flow without the ‘spillage’ (of symptoms).
Managing overload can be done by:
Healing of the gut and nervous system. This can happen with attention to diet, our thinking process, and supportive herbal and nutritional medicines etc. An experienced practitioner can help you sort out priorities and appropriate ways to encourage the natural healing process . If we can just ‘get out of the way’, homoeostasis (or balance) is more achievable.
Children and infants can respond well to gentle, safe natural medicines especially if they are administered with an appropriate attitude. For all patients it can take time to discover the best approach to igniting the healing capacity; regular feedback to the practitioner is vital so treatments can be tweaked to suit.