Why Did My Kid React to That Food?

Little chief-cook tasting the carrotKids can have reactions to food for many different reasons. They can be allergic, sensitive, intolerant, or have problems because the food contains poisons or has drug effects.

Food allergies are caused by a child’s immune system reacting to a food, similar to the way they can react to pollen or bug bites. Allergic reactions are usually to the protein in the food rather than the sugar or fat, and are usually immediate. The most common severe reactions are to tree nuts, peanuts, and shellfish. Less severe reactions are most common with cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, and fish.

Celiac disease is in this category. People with celiac are allergic to the gluten protein in wheat and react with their immune system if they are exposed to even a tiny amount. Gluten allergy was worth a whole blog all by itself: A Gluten Free Blog.

80-90% of the time, kids will outgrow allergies to eggs, wheat, milk, and soy by 5 years of age. They outgrow peanut allergies only 20% of the time. (Do NOT experiment with this!) Fewer will outgrow allergies to tree nuts and seafood.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Skin rashes. Hives, or whelps–itchy raised patches with pale centers and red rims. Hives move around, fading in one area to reappear in another. Antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) help the symptoms.
  • Breathing problems. Food reactions can make kids wheeze, make their throats feel tight, and give them sneezing fits.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and  diarrhea.
  • Circulatory symptoms like paleness, lightheadedness, and loss of consciousness.
  • Severe reactions can involve several of these areas, and are called anaphylaxis.

Food sensitivities and intolerances are not allergies. Some children can be sensitive to the common effects of a food and react strongly. For example:

  • Apples, pears and bananas contain pectin and can be constipating (useful if your child has diarrhea). Some children can get stopped up if they eat too many.
  • Dairy products can also constipate–some kids will never poop again if they eat a lot of cheese. (This may be a slight exaggeration.)
  • Sugar can cause diarrhea, so children may have problems if they drink a lot of juice. (Interestingly, we have never been able to prove that sugar makes kids hyper.)
  • Kids can react to dyes and preservatives in foods–they will feel nauseated or tired, and we have proven that red dye can make them hyper.
  • Lactose intolerance is an reaction to the sugar in milk. People who are lactose intolerant are missing the enzyme (lactase) that breaks down the sugar in milk (lactose). They get bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

There are certainly plants that contain toxins (poisons) in themselves–poisonous mushrooms, apple seeds, and belladonna are examples–but most poisonings are accidental, usually from foods that have spoiled:

  • C. Botulinium bacteria grows in improperly canned food and in cans that have rusted through.When we used to give Karo syrup for constipation, the bacteria would grow in Karo left on a cupboard shelf and children would die, paralyzed by the neurotoxin (nerve poison) that the bacteria produced.
  • Staph Aureus can grow in spoiled food and produce a toxin that is usually self limited in its effect, giving kids cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Clostridium perfringens produces a similar toxin, and is frequently the villain in cafeteria incidents and contaminations in soil and sewage.
  • Salmonella can grow in spoiled meat, eggs, and milk and give your child diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
  • E. coli is more likely to grow in beef, but can be found in mishandled produce. Same unpleasant symptoms.
  • Shigella is common in daycare outbreaks. It causes the same nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever, but has the added risk of seizures from the toxin it produces.

Foods can also have drug effects. The best examples of this are drinks (coffee, tea, energy drinks) and food (chocolate) that contain caffeine. Caffeine makes kids restless, shaky, and interferes with their sleep. In large doses, as with energy drinks, it can produce a rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors and seizures. There were 20,783 emergency room visits from energy drinks in 2011; 5 people died after consuming them. The youngest was a 14 year old girl.

Foods can also be irritants. For example, babies can get rashes around their mouths or diaper rashes from acidic foods.

People do not react to a food solely because it is a GMO (genetically modified organism)–GMOs are not something you need to avoid unless you have a reaction to the particular item. GMO wheat produces the same allergens as non-GMO wheat; if you are allergic to one, you will be allergic to the other. Also the subject of an entire blog: What’s the Deal with GMOs?

In conclusion, not every food reaction is a food allergy. Avoidance or treatment of the food reaction varies with the actual cause. If a child has an anaphylactic allergic reaction to peanuts, he or she never needs to be around peanuts again. They may outgrow other allergies. If they get gassy from a lactose intolerance, they can take lactase tablets when they eat dairy. Kids who become constipated with apples or cheese need to limit the number they eat. It is always important for every child to not be fed spoiled food or energy drinks.

Knowing in what way your child reacted to a food determines what you do about it in the future. Knowledge rules.

Domesticated Momster
Rhyming with Wine
Rhyming with Wine

What’s the Deal With GMOs?

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

“GMOs” are genetically modified organisms.

Humans have been genetically modifying organisms since we stood upright and developed our big brains. We originally did it by selective breeding. That’s why my Golden Retrievers have that long, beautiful–constantly shedding–golden fur, why broccoli exists, and why that ear of corn you munch on isn’t 2 inches long. We pick the animal or vegetable with traits we want, and we breed or plant those rather than the ones with traits we do not want.

What is different now is that we can modify at the level of the organism’s DNA. We can take the gene for the trait we want and insert it into the DNA of the animal or plant to create an entirely new organism with the preferred traits.

The first genetically modified mouse was bred in 1981; the first genetically modified plant in 1983. Since then, GMOs have taken off. Between 1996 and 2013 GMO crops increased by 100%. Recent stats estimate that 10% of the worlds croplands are planted with GMOs. 94% of the soybeans, 96% of the cotton, and 93% of the corn grown today are GMOs.

Concerns about GMOs include unease about GMO’s effect on the environment and the economy of farmers, and worries about the safety of food products.

Environmental worries arise because GMOs are created to be more herbicide and insect resistant, give a higher yield, have more nutrients, and be more drought resistant. The non-GMO varieties can’t compete economically. Farmers have to grow the improved variety in order to survive. Then, if all of the wheat in an area is one variety, and something evolves that kills that variety, we have a problem. We have placed all of our eggs in one basket.

Another worry is that the GMOs are created and owned. To get them you have to buy from the company that did the work to create them. How do you compete if you can’t afford their product? If there is drift from their fields into yours (pollen travels) have you stolen something?

Will we use more poisonous herbicides because our new plants aren’t hurt by them?

Health concerns generally arise because the science behind the creation of GMOs is pretty extreme. We imagine scientists creating zombie corn that will poison our children. Corn grown on a plant that is more resistant to drought is still corn, with no difference nutritionally. Extra nutrients developed into a GMO plant are thoroughly tested and approved before they can be sold.

The one real issue when food crops are developed with new proteins is that kids with allergies may be effected. The FDA requires proof of safety when foods that are commonly allergic (milk, eggs, wheat, fish, tree nuts, and legumes) are affected. All of our safety standards still apply.

The positives of GMOs are my happy place, as a certified geek.

  • GMOs can produce food in areas of the world that are less fertile or have problems with insects, so children who might otherwise starve will have food. Those foods can also be developed to resist spoilage.
  • Food can be grown that is more packed with nutrients. For example, a tomato might be developed that has protein to help develop strong muscles.
  • Scientists have developed bacteria that produce biofuels that are safer for the environment.
  • A breed of pig now exists that can digest phosphorus, thus decreasing water pollution and overgrowth of algae.
  • Bacteria can produce chemicals that do everything from clot milk to make cheese, to break down starch to make sugar.
  • Bacteria have been developed that produce human proteins. Previously, insulin came from pigs, and diabetics could become allergic to the medicine they needed to stay alive. We can now treat children with hemophilia with clotting factors that do not make it likely that they will, in the end, die of AIDs. We can produce human growth factor to treat some forms of dwarfism. Research is being done that may produce treatments for kids with cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease, and many forms of cancer.
  • A goat exists now that produces ATryn, an anticoagulant that decreases the chance of having a blood clot during childbirth, in its milk.
  • Scientists are developing animals that have organs that are compatible with human biology. This sounds questionable right up to the point where your child needs a lung transplant.
  • One I find particularly elegant: Scientists produced a male mosquito with a lethal gene, and released it in the Cayman Islands in 2010. The particular breed of mosquito was one that carried Dengue fever, and they decreased the population of that mosquito by 80%. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they could do that with the mosquito that carries the Zika virus–the one that is causing babies brains to not grow in utero?

In the end, GMOs are here to stay. There is no possible way to remove them from the planet even if we chose to. We enjoy the products of GMOs every day without even knowing geeks were involved, and the future possibilities are truly amazing. Gene therapy can cure diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, diabetes and cancer. Transplantable organs can come from pigs rather than dead children. Biofuels to help the environment–the possibilities are endless.

Opponents are pushing for products to be labeled so that consumers can choose, but even that is next to impossible to implement. A growing number of products contain one or more ingredient from a GMO. How many products have corn oil or syrup? Where do you draw the line–if a food product was grown on a farm near a field with a GMO product, and was possibly cross pollinated, might it not be considered a GMO?

Certainly we need to monitor the science to make sure what it does is ethical and safe, but we do that every day in medicine and science, under the watchful eyes of the Department of Agriculture and the FDA.

What matters is that the food is available, safe, and nutritious. Junk food, sodas, and pesticides on your fruit are a much larger problem. A GMO apple is, nutritionally, an apple.

Domesticated Momster

a Gluten Free Blog…

I recently heard some very strange theories about gluten. wheat-01Reminiscent of the telephone game we played as children, whispering into each other’s ears down a line, what people hear at the end is very different from the reality spoken at the beginning. Let’s clear up some confusion.

Our ancestors survived in no small part due to the development of cultivated grasses: the seeds of grasses are high in carbohydrates for energy, protein for strong muscles, and fiber for bowel function. They contain iron, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. They could be dried and stored, so groups of people could stay in one place and survive the winter. Worldwide throughout history, every culture has developed some sort of grain based food as a staple, from bread to flatbread, corn tortillas to rice.

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, spelt, barley, and rye grains. It gives elasticity to bread dough so that it can rise and maintain its shape and chewiness. Gluten is pervasive in our foods: it is in breads, pastas and cereals, is added into low protein foods to improve their nutritional value, and is present in everything from ketchup to soy sauce to beer. It is even in our cosmetics, hair and skin products.

Our bodies use the amino acids that make up gluten to build our muscles and everything from our fingernails to the cartilage in our noses; to make our immune system work so it can fight off disease; to communicate within our bodies; to carry oxygen through our bloodstreams; even to make sperm able to swim so the next generation can be born. We cannot make all of these amino acids ourselves, so we have to ingest them. Whole grains are an excellent source.

Since whole grains contain so many nutrients and have such fantastic health benefits, and since avoiding gluten is both inconvenient and expensive, let’s make sure living gluten free makes sense, before we commit.

Celiac disease is the condition we worry about with gluten. It is caused by an immune reaction to the gluten protein: it acts as an allergen in genetically predisposed people, like pollen to people with hay fever. It is most common in the Saharawi in the Western Sahara and Spain. In the US, about 7 in 1000 people have it. It is programmed into the DNA of affected people, inherited from their ancestors, like having blue eyes or brown hair. The inheritance is complex, with many genes contributing, so the disease has a variety of presentations. Children most typically present between 6 months and 2 years of age with weight loss, diarrhea, muscle wasting and abdominal distention. Some less common presentations include:

  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Poor growth
  • Delayed puberty, infertility
  • Itchy bumps on the elbows, knees, and buttocks
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Behavioral problems, depression
  • Headaches
  • Weak, thin bones with frequent fractures

It is more common in people with Type 1 Diabetes, Down’s syndrome, autoimmune disease, and thyroiditis. The symptoms can be more severe when there is concurrent illness, like rotavirus or a toxin ingestion.

In the people who have Celiac, gluten triggers an inflammatory reaction which causes the little absorptive pillars in the small intestine to die off, and causes crypt hyperplasia in the walls of the gut. This affects the person’s ability to absorb nutrients, resulting in the weight loss, diarrhea, and the other symptoms listed above. It also causes the production of antigliadin antibody (AGA), tissue transglutaminase (tTG), and antiendomysium antibody (EMA), which can be tested for and are used to screen for Celiac disease. Convenient, yes?

If you think your children might have Celiac disease, get them tested. If the test is positive, he or she will need to see a specialist and have a biopsy done to confirm the diagnosis. Children who test positive for Celiac disease need to consult with a nutritionist, both to learn which foods and products contain gluten, and to learn how to maintain a healthful diet without the many things that include gluten. Short term, deficiencies of trace elements, vitamins and minerals are common with a gluten free diet (zinc, magnesium, iron and B vitamins especially); long term risks include cancers of the gut and recurrent bone fractures. Deficiencies can lead to anemia, poor immune function, poor growth, skin lesions, messed up heart and brain function, and a host of other unpleasant symptoms. Living gluten free is not something you would want to attempt without knowledge and expert guidance.

A gluten free diet is a medical necessity for people with Celiac disease. It is not a healthful way to lose weight. It is also not a good way to nourish your child. Sustenance should not be a fashion trend.

Children use food to lengthen their bones, grow their muscles, build their brains, and give them energy to run, climb, and think. We need to avoid feeding our children things like concentrated sweets, sodas, and greasy fast food; we do not need to avoid whole grain breads and cereals.

Whole grain and protein are not in any way toxic, even though a very few people are allergic and have to avoid them. Pretending to have an allergy to be “hip” is just silly, and disrespectful of the people who actually have Celiac disease.

If your children do not have Celiac, stick to a nutritious diet including whole and enriched grains. Feeding your children a gluten free diet when they don’t have Celiac disease is not only inconvenient and expensive, it also carries with it serious risk to your children’s health.

To grow, two-year-olds should have about three ounces of grain per day; by four, they should get five ounces; between nine and eighteen, they need to take in between five and eight ounces. At least half of this should be whole grain; the rest should be enriched (iron, vitamins and minerals added back in).

Don’t let fads decide for you what to feed your child; rely on common sense and nutritional science. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, then add whole and enriched grains and a little protein. Sit down and eat together as a family, and watch your munchkins grow and thrive.