Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notes from our Naturapathic Doctor and friend

This week Advice introduces our Naturapathic Doctor and friend, Dr Kirsten Smith of the Health Associates Clinic.
We are excited to welcome Dr Smith to Advice with her thoughtful contributions on health for you and your baby.  This week, Dr Smith discusses food allergies.

You can visit Dr Smith at her website at drsmithnd.com

Current recommendations on food introductions & minimizing the risk of food allergies:

It is so lame and clichéd to say it, but truly, I have a whole new appreciation for advising parents in my practice now that I’m a mom. I have been utterly flabbergasted and somewhat annoyed (to be honest) at all of the things there are to figure out. Am I offering the healthiest breast milk or formula? Have I got toxin-free baby shampoo? Am I supposed to be using supplements? Am I reading enough to my child and does he have enough social time, alone time, outdoor, music, play, sleep time? And on (and on) it goes. So, I’m guest blogging for my lovely friends Emily & Elizabeth of Advice, because, well, now I’m both a naturopathic doctor AND a mom, which means in short: I’m armed with a lot of info that you need. So, here and there I’ll drop in with some helpful information to simplify the journey.

So why not come out of the gate with a bang? My first topic goes straight for the jugular with the serious topic of food allergies - they can be deadly, the prevalence of them is rising rapidly, and there is such confusion about what to do to help avoid them.

My goal here is simple: I’m going to summarize what the research states, to date, on food introductions and minimizing the risk of your child developing allergies. I’m happy to report, it’s easier than what has been recommended over recent years which was too keep all allergenic foods at bay until 18-24 months.

First off, what exactly is a food allergy? An allergy is when the body responds to a food as though it is a foreign invader and launches an immune response upon exposure, which can result very rapidly in hives or an itchy mouth, or in extreme cases, an anaphylactic reaction involving an inflamed airway, throat, tongue and lips, and can - in rare occasions - result in death. So… what the heck is going on?

Why are there so many kids with such serious food allergies? There are a couple of working theories, but the truth is disappointing: nobody knows. Yet. To name a few: there’s the hygiene hypothesis (our environment is too sterile, we aren’t crawling around in the dirt like in the good ol’ days and thus our immune systems aren’t getting enough of a work-out), toxic burden (i.e. pesticides and personal care products to name just a couple of types), genetic modification of food (a very likely candidate), poor soil quality (less vitamins and minerals in our food than there used to be) and over-consumption of processed foods that are rammed with chemicals (i.e. preservatives, dyes, additives, etc.). There are probably more, but let’s keep the depressing quotient as low as we can.

Fact: in the US, between 1997-2002, the number of hospitalizations for food allergies increased by 265% so we can likely deduce a similar increase has occurred in Canada. So? This is getting crazy. Somebody had better figure it out. And soon.

Any good news? Here’s what the current research is saying & it’s easier than you think:

·       There is no evidence or consensus that restricting maternal diet while pregnant plays a role in preventing allergies in offspring
·       Pregnant women do not have to avoid allergenic foods of the biological father
·       There is no evidence that restrictions in maternal diet during breastfeeding prevents future food allergies in their infant
·       Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 (at least 4) months of life may protect against cow’s milk allergy
·       For infants without family history of allergy to cow’s milk, the use of cow’s milk-based formula does NOT increase risk of future allergy
·       For infants with family history of cow’s milk allergy the use of hydrolyzed “hypoallergenic” formulas show moderate evidence that they may reduce the risk for developing future cow’s milk allergy
·       For breastfed infants with a family history of dairy allergy, brief exposure to cow’s milk-based infant formula (occasionally) does not increase risk of future cow’s milk allergy
·       For all infants the use of soy-based infant formulas should be limited to those who cannot tolerate or have dairy-based formulas or hydrolyzed formulas
·       Solids are to be introduced between 4-6 months (depending on signs that baby is ready)
·       Once the standard fruit, veggies and grains are introduced you should proceed with introducing the “allergenic foods” such as dairy, nuts, gluten, soy, corn, eggs, strawberries, citrus, tomatoes, fish etc. without delay
·       There is one exception: if there is a family history of anaphylactic allergy to any of these foods –delay introducing that food to your children until they are 18-24 months old and when it is introduced, be ready to watch carefully for any signs of allergic reaction in your child.

My recommendations:
·      introduce new “allergenic” foods at home so that you are in a calm environment and can observe your child
·      do so at breakfast or lunch so you can observe your child for the rest of the day
·   introduce them without any other new foods and only a small amount, with 3-5 days before you add in another new food so that you can watch for any reactions
·    Keep allergenic foods low profile in their diet because when you eat the same foods continually, there is increased risk of developing an allergy or sensitivity in future. It is critical to ensure that your child eats a wide variety of foods to avoid this.

As I sign off I’d  like to try, at least, to bring a little levity to this hefty topic. Somebody told me a few months ago in my son’s early infancy (I must’ve looked particularly pathetic), “The days are long but the years are short.” And my heart lurches a little at this thought – still. I want to enjoy every moment with him. Every. Single. One. And I do for the most part. I hope you to do the same. Get educated about health issues relating to infancy and children, do what you can do, and then move on sisters. Move on. 

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