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Dr. Stephen Whiting |
Allergies and Their Effect on Behavior and Brain Function
Allergies or sensitivities to foods or non-foods can have a marked effect on the behavior and brain function of small children. As adults we have become accustomed to the concept of allergies. In fact it is frequently an over-used excuse for a variety of behavioral problems. In children, allergies, and more commonly, food sensitivities, can contribute to a variety of learning disabilities.
An allergic reaction to a substance produces rapid symptoms which can include rashes, itching, flushing of the skin and so forth. If your child is food sensitive however, the symptoms may not be so easily recognized. The symptoms may include muscular pain, mood swings, depression, headache, rapid heart beat, upper and/or lower gastrointestinal discomfort or difficulty in concentrating. These symptoms may not occur for several hours after being exposed to the offending food or substance. The symptoms might last for as little as 20 minutes or as long as 3 or 4 hours.
Most of us have some food and environmental sensitivities but we can handle them with little impact on our lifestyle. Children who are sensitive and predisposed to learning disabilities however, can react much more violently upon contact with a guilty food or substance.
Typical sources of offending chemicals or proteins with regards to children include pets, dust, feathers, artificial colors and flavors in foods, cleaning agents, felt-tip pens, inks, pains, tobacco, preservatives used in processed food products are sometimes major causes of irritation in children.
How do we begin to unravel potential allergies and sensitivities in our children? A basic rule of thumb is that the most likely offending food or foods are those your child craves and consumes the most. We tend to crave that to which we are allergic. Also remember that sugar-laden foods will frequently be at the top of this list.
School teachers often dread holidays because "the children are harder to manage." We blame this on excitement and a change in routine. It is more likely that the greater contributor to the classroom uproar is the excess sugar consumed in connection with holiday celebrations. Consider such celebrations as Halloween, Easter, and Christmas. Each of these events is celebrated with cookies, cakes, candies and other such goodies, all laced with copious amounts of sugar. Is it any wonder kids are bounding off the walls when we pump their small bodies full of high octane rocket fuel at a rate they cannot hope to utilize?
The next step in detecting potentially offending substances in your child's life is through observation. Watch your child closely and keep a list of what foods are consumed, the time eaten and any changes in normal behavior for up to 4 hours after eating.
Next, eliminate any foods or drinks that you suspect are causing an altered behavior or outlook from the diet. Once you have determined a link between erratic behavior and certain foods, eliminate them from your household. You must keep them from the child completely . Yes they might fight you. Be patient and understanding. Remember the last time you tried to break a habit? Eating, especially foods to which we are addicted, is a big habit and hard to break.
After 3 to 4 weeks of abstinence you might find that you will observe a change in your child's behavior. At that time, if the food is wholesome and good for them, you might try to reintroduce that food back into the diet, but only once or twice a week. Continue to observe for a reoccurrence of previous symptoms.
If offending substances and foods continue to be unknown to you, you might wish to consider having your child tested for potential allergies. This may be done by either the cytotoxic test, or the RAST test. Both are accomplished via blood sample. These tests are not only superior to the skin patch test but are much more comfortable for smaller children.
Remember that you, as a parent, can be a far better judge of what constitutes a good diet than the food industry. Their goal is to sell the cheapest product for the highest price and keep the shelf life as long as possible - even if it means lacing the product with as many as dozens of synthetic chemicals and preservatives. The only other group of professionals that are as ignorant as the food industry with regards to food quality are most doctors and dieticians. Fortunately, to some extent, this is changing. Many doctors are now taking a much closer look at how diet affects our overall health and well being.