Feeding your kid can feel like playing Russian roulette
Originally published in The Toronto Star, Oct. 4 2015.
Read the online version here.
Any new parent will likely agree to at least these two universal truths: you want to do what’s best for your kid, and what’s best is often subjective.
Most people will tell you just to go with your gut, but what happens when your gut is the problem? This is the conundrum for any parent who has a food allergy or intolerance. They’ll tell you that feeding their own kids can feel like playing Russian roulette.
Anita, who did not want her last name used, has spent two years trying to convince people to hold off giving her son bread-based treats in case he has inherited her celiac disease.
“It comes down a lot to a lack of awareness,” said the GTA-based mom. Celiac disease, while not an allergy per se, can cause severe abdominal pain and other digestive problems, and can impede a child’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Since the blood test that diagnoses celiac can’t be done until two, she said it didn’t make sense to expose him any earlier.
She has been feeding her son gluten bit by bit, and while he seems OK so far, she still wants to minimize his intake until she’s certain. But well-meaning family members are being less cautious.
“Suddenly they think he can eat anything,” she said.
“People don’t take it as seriously because they don’t really comprehend how food can be an enemy … how something innocent can be harmful. (And) you can’t see the symptoms, like with anaphylaxis.”
“People take it more seriously when you say a child has an allergy.”
Toronto allergy specialist Dr. Jason Lee agreed that Anita’s wait-and-see approach may be the best one, at least until the child is old enough to say whether they are in any discomfort.
“If you have some sort of celiac in the parent, it may be advisable to avoid the ingestion until you are further advised by a physician,” he said.
The opposite, however, is true for parents who have true food allergies, said Lee.
When and how to expose children to high allergy risk foods — such as peanuts or eggs — was up for debate as recently as last year. But the findings of a 2015 study, called the LEAP study, showed that delaying the introduction of peanuts actually increases a child’s risk of developing a peanut allergy. Now parents are told to expose children to peanuts before they turn one.
“You can generalize the results for all foods, providing that it’s a true allergy,” Lee said.
Kristi Kocherkewych already knows that her sons, who are 6 and 2, have inherited their father’s nut allergy — and several others, too.
“This information — about not delaying introduction — came out after my 2-year-old was born, but there was no way I was going to (introduce him young), with my oldest son’s history of food allergies,” she said.
Both boys have now been tested for countless allergies, and Kocherkewych now knows that one or both of them can’t eat bananas, eggs, dairy, nuts and shellfish.
Some of these allergies her sons may outgrow. Others they may not. In the meantime, they are closely monitored by allergists.
Regardless of when parents with food allergies expose their own children to high-allergy risk foods, Lee recommends doing it under the supervision of an allergist. “Little children can’t verbalize their symptoms,” he said.
Passing on allergies to your kids
When we have a food allergy, our body interprets the presence of a particular food protein as being dangerous. As our immune system tries to fight that protein, we may feel symptoms as mild as itching or as severe as anaphylaxis.
Celiac disease also involves the immune system fighting the presence of a protein — in this case, gluten. But the symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal. So it’s not a true allergy.
According to Dr. Jason Lee, if you have one parent with an allergy, there’s about a 40 per cent chance that their child will inherit some sort of allergy as well — but not necessarily the same allergy.
If you have two parents with some sort of allergy, there’s a 60 to 70 per cent chance that their child will be at risk.
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