Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Understanding Food Allergies: Immediate vs. Delayed

The words “food allergy” often conjures up images of tongue swelling, hives, wheezing, or even the throat closing. These immediate symptoms can be life-threatening; in fact, those with severe food allergies typically carry epinephrine injector pens in case they accidentally eat foods they are allergic to. Highly allergenic foods include peanuts, shellfish, tree nuts, and dairy products.

While immediate reactions typically indicate a food sensitivity, other allergic reactions are not always so obvious. These are called “delayed onset” food allergies as they tend to appear 36-72 hours after eating. These reactions are usually not as severe, but can trigger joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, abdominal bloating, and mood changes. Delayed onset food allergies are also behind baffling long-term health issues like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and chronic pain. Multiple Sclerosis, Osteoporosis and other severe diseases are also thought to be triggered by delayed food sensitivities.

It’s estimated that 12 million Americans suffer from food allergies and the number is growing for children. A study published in the December 2009 issue of Pediatrics reports the incidence of food allergy in children rose by 18% during 1997-2007. Topping the list of most common allergy triggers are wheat, barley, rye (gluten), dairy products (casein), corn, and soy. However, any food can cause sensitivity if a person’s immune system becomes activated to fight the “foreign invader.”

How Is Food Allergy Testing Done?

Blood tests are done to measure the level of antibodies, or immunoglobulin in the blood. For those suffering from severe, immediate allergic reactions such as asthma or throat swelling, allergen-specific immunoglobulin IgE antibodies testing is performed for certain foods or environmental triggers like pet dander or pollen. To test for delayed onset sensitivities to certain foods, a more involved test would check IgG antibody levels to identify antigens that contribute to chronic diseases. Results from immunoglobulin testing help allergy sufferers and their health practitioners form an effective wellness plan.

Lifestyle Changes

Once the culprit is identified, all necessary precautions must be taken to avoid the allergen food. It is critical to read all ingredient labels before purchasing packaged foods at the market; when dining out, be certain that the foods you order are allergen-free as well as prepared separately from other foods. At dinner parties, bring your own food to ensure there is no cross contamination that can trigger an attack. Most importantly, if you suffer severe allergic reactions, make sure to have all your medications with you at all times.

Lifestyle changes don’t occur overnight. Diligence and careful planning ahead can help reduce allergy anxiety and keep flare ups at bay. Food allergy support groups can offer guidance, friendship and resources to help manage your lifestyle. Check out

Monday, January 18, 2010

Digestive Disorders in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders Acknowledged by Mainstream Medicine

The New Year ushered in promising news for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as the first step were taken for guideline recommendations for treatment of gastric intestinal disorders (GI) commonly experience by those on the spectrum. The news validated what parents and we practitioners who care for children with ASD have known all along: GI disorders are a valid ailment of children on the spectrum and as such require evaluation and treatment.

The consensus recommendations were derived from a 2008 meeting sponsored by Autism Forum and were written by a multidisciplinary panel of pediatric and GI experts. They call for more scientific studies to be conducted on GI disorders in children with autism, acknowledging that GI distress oftentimes present atypical, self injurious behavior and disturbed sleep. The study further recommends that children with ASD who show signs of abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation or other symptoms of gastric distress be evaluated and treated just as their typical counterparts would be. In addition, trials are recommended to build an evidence base for developing diagnostic and treatment strategies for GI disorders.

For many children with autism, communication is an issue; limitations in speech often make it impossible to specifically communicate the pain that they are experiencing, culminating in behavioral issues that are often viewed as the face of autism. Digestive disorders up until now were often dismissed as a symptom of autism and further investigation often was not taken to treat the problem. According to Autism Research Institute’s Director Dr. Steve Edelson, “This is truly a human rights issue; every child deserves proper medical attention--whether or not they have autism.”

In my own ASD patients, I have found that GI distress is a common complaint. Diet is one of the first areas that I evaluate. While the recent report advises that more studies need to be undertaken to develop dietary guidelines, I have found time and time again that specialized diets such as the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free (GFCF) diet have been extremely effective in those who present signs or demonstrate allergies (on blood work) to gluten or dairy products. Feedback from parents regularly shows that children with GI disorders make significant improvements in such areas as speech, bowel habits, language acquisition, behavior and sensory issues when eliminating gluten and dairy foods. In fact, in a trial noted by the panel, more than half the participants elected to continue the GFCF diet after the trial, reporting positive changes in their child. While each child is unique, it’s been my experience that diet in conjunction with other supplementation continually proves to be an effective means of helping children with ASD reach their maximum potential.

For more information, see the January issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Revving Up Your Brain Performance In the New Year -- Tips to Get Your Brain & Body In Tip Top Shape"

What's your resolution for 2010? Quit smoking? Get more exercise? Eat healthier? Reduce spending? The list goes on and on. If you're like most, you begin the New Year with the best intentions to turn over a new leaf. As time passes, the drive and the ability to stay committed waxes and wanes.

"Failures don't plan to fail; they fail to plan" says author and motivational speaker Harvey MacKay. Help yourself succeed this year by planning to focus on specific areas of your health. If a long-term plan is too overwhelming, try dividing your goals into a weekly or daily plan. Creating a lifestyle wellness plan will not only help your body feel great, but will also provide the mental acuity to make good decisions that will positively affect all areas of your life.

Here are some suggestions to keep your brain and body healthy this year:

Sleep -- While arguably the least taxing, it is often one of the most difficult goals to achieve. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours per night. Insufficient sleep is associated with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Make it a priority to establish a good sleep schedule. You’ll find you are sharper mentally and physically when you get adequate quantity of sleep.

Vices -- Plan to quit smoking and excessive drinking. Take it one day at a time.

Diet -- Be committed to a balanced diet; avoid processed foods and high saturated fat foods such as red meat. Opt for chicken, tofu, or even better, fish. A regular diet of Omega 3 rich fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel or sardines helps raise good high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease such as abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), poor circulation to the heart (angina) and heart attack. Essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 can improve brain cell composition as well as the function of chemicals that transmit messages between brain cells and the nervous system. Improper balance or deficiencies in these chemicals, called neurotransmitters, can result in depression, ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, compulsive eating disorders and other compulsive behaviors.

Supplements: Learn the ABC’s of EPA and DHA. These Omega 3 fatty acids in supplement form are particularly beneficial to those who find it difficult to incorporate fish into their diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are vital nutrients found naturally in fish and can easily be ingested via gel caps or in liquid form.

As noted previously, these Omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis. A 2006 Harvard study revealed that 250 mg. of EPA and DHA reduce the risk of dying of heart attack by 36%. ( University of Pittsburgh researchers studying rheumatoid arthritis found that 59% of arthritis sufferers stopped taking steroids for pain relief when given 1.2 grams of fish oil daily. (

In terms of brain health, DHA in particular has been found to improve communication between brain cells, helping to improve mood and mental clarity, reduce the risk of stroke, and may possibly stave off Alzheimer’s, and dementia. Research by UCLA neuroscientists has shown that DHA increases the production of LR11, a protein that destroys the protein that forms the "plaques" associated with Alzheimer’s, a disease which is predicted to affect 11 to 15 million people within the next 40 years. (

Physical Exercise – While walking, aerobics, and yoga have obvious benefits to weight management, regular exercise also contributes to brain fitness. Levels of dopamine are increased in the brain when we exercise, which may help combat Parkinson’s disease and chronic compulsive disorders. Exercise also increases endorphins, the body’s natural anxiety busters and mood enhancers, as well as beta activity in the brain which is shown to increase focus and awareness, and reduce brain fog.

Mental Exercise – Research has shown that challenging the brain helps stimulate brain cell connections.  Reading, knitting, crossword puzzles, computer activities, or other cognitive activities may delay or even prevent memory loss.  This year, stimulate your brain by learning a musical instrument, a foreign language or delve into something you always wanted to learn... like astronomy!

Hydration – Reduced fluid levels, even as little as 1-2%, compromise nerve transmission in the brain, impairing cognitive performance and mood. Short-term memory, attention deficits, mental cloudiness, dizziness, headaches and chronic fatigue are signs of dehydration. Avoid caffeinated drinks. Make an effort to drink 8 large glasses of filtered water daily to flush out toxins and keep your brain and body running like a well-oiled machine.

The human brain can change throughout the course of a lifetime, an amazing ability called neuroplasticity. By activating our brains through new experiences, and fueling our bodies with good nutrition we can create and strengthen neural connections that improve memory and overall cognitive functioning. Thanks to neuroplasticity, it’s never too late to make a positive affect on our brain health.

In coming posts we’ll give you helpful hints on keeping you on track, like recipes for a brain healthy diet, exercise tips, supplement information, and ways to stay mentally sharp. We welcome your feedback and questions. Please use our comment form at the bottom of this post to share your thoughts.

Happy New Year!