Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Food allergies are becoming a serious concern for children. Among children with autism and related disorders such as ADHD, ADD, etc, food allergies are even more common compared to the general population of children. Children on the Spectrum may be more vulnerable to food allergies because of a troubled digestive and/or immune system. Food allergies further contribute to behavioral problems. Understanding how food allergies may be affecting your child and eliminating those problematic foods from your child’s diet is a very critical component of his/her comprehensive treatment plan.
The Food Allergy & Behaviour Connection
Children on the spectrum (Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, ADD, etc.) share a common problem—some degree of sensory integration dysfunction. Children with sensory integration dysfunction have difficulty responding appropriately to sensory information from their environment.
Compared to other children they are more sensitive, become easily overwhelmed, and may overreact (or underreact) to auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation.
So if your child already has sensory issues, then allergy symptoms like itchy skin, hives, eczema, runny nose, sneezing, and itchy, tearing eyes will stress his sensory system further. This makes it even more difficult for them to function normally.
The combination of food allergies and sensory issues can hinder your child’s ability to sit still, concentrate, maintain focus, process information, learn, control his impulses and behavior, and interact with his teachers and therapists.
Relieving your child of food allergy symptoms will lessen the sensory burden he/she has to deal with, which will improve his/her behavior.
Why does your child have a food allergy?
Troubled Digestive and/or Immune System
Children on the Spectrum may be more vulnerable to food allergies because of a troubled digestive system and/or immune system. In a healthy digestive system, digestive enzymes break down the protein in foods into smaller components called amino acids. The amino acids then pass through the lining of the gastrointestinal wall into the bloodstream and are used throughout the body as needed. The tight junctions between cells in the gastrointestinal wall are tightly bound and act as a barrier to ensure only small, single molecules such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are allowed into the bloodstream.
Children on the Spectrum with disturbed gastrointestinal and/or immune system have abnormally increased gut permeability. This is also known as "leaky gut syndrome”. This allows large, intact protein molecules to pass through the gastrointestinal lining into the bloodstream. This triggers their immune system to overreact to an otherwise harmless food, identifying the protein molecule as a foreign particle and initiating a defense. As these protein molecules circulate throughout the body, cells react by releasing histamine, cytokines, interleukins, and other chemicals, triggering a systemic inflammation and allergy symptoms.
Is your child suffering from one or more of the following symptoms?
Food allergy may be the cause!
Ears—otitis media (ear infections)
Nose—nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose
Eyes—tearing, puffy eyes, dark circles under eyes
Oral—swelling of lips, tongue, mouth, and throat
Skin—hives, eczema, red cheeks, itching
Respiratory—difficulty breathing, cough, wheezing, asthma
Intestinal—reflux, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation
Neurological—headache, migraine, and behavioral problems such as tantrums,
Irritability, and hyperactivity
How to treat Food Allergies in Autism?
If your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, getting help from a Functional Medicine practitioner is critical.
The FM practitioner will guide you through the nutrition therapy component of treating food allergies, which involves nutritional interventions to heal the gastrointestinal tract, elimination of allergenic foods, identifying and resolving any nutrient deficiencies, and assessing your child’s growth.
Eliminating common foods such as dairy, wheat, eggs, and soy can have a major impact on the nutritional quality of your child’s diet. Hence, it's critical to work with a right practitioner who can guide you which food to include as you eliminate the common allergens.
4 main steps of Gut Healing
Resolving food allergies and sealing leaky gut Is a key strategy in helping children with Autism/ADHD/ASD at Functional Medicine Clinic.
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