Is your child’s immune system at risk? (Allergies, asthma and eczema- how it all comes together)

There is an epidemic of chronic illnesses in the world right now and it is our children who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, health conditions like allergies, eczema and asthma have become only too common in our children today. In fact, the new "normal" for many children is chronic illness.

When our older child, our daughter, was diagnosed with eczema about 11 years ago, it was not very common in India. Sadly, a lot has changed since then and now it so much more common to hear of babies and children who have some kind of chronic health issue. Obviously, there is something going on here, something that is not right. As a parent of a child who had immense health issues, I know only too well the tremendous toll that any kind of chronic health issues of a child can have on the entire family. These include but are not limited to missed school for children, missed work and stress for parents, poor concentration in school and at home, chronic use of medications, hospitalisations and even social stigma. This is not the kind of life our children should be living and we need to educate ourselves so that we can become empowered to do something about it.

Contrary to what we think, genetics alone cannot explain this rise in childhood health illnesses. Genetics pretty much remains the same from one generation to the next (barring uncommon mutations) but the environment can and does have a huge impact on the expression of genes that we are born with. In fact, the foods that we eat, toxins that we are exposed to, infections and even our experiences alter the way our DNA is expressed and shape our appearance, function and overall health. That means that several factors (including but not limited to) like our environment, foods and our lifestyle are all factors that can determine epigenetic changes and determine whether we will move towards health or towards disease. This kind of change is a regular and natural occurrence and the study of this type of change in gene expression is known as "epigenetics". 

The health challenges that are being faced by our children today are driven by three major changes (there are others as well) due to which their immune system is showing abnormally high sensitivity to the environment

increase in exposure to toxins

undernutrition due to poor food choices as well as nutritionally depleted foods

poor gut health (with or without intestinal permeability)

(I have written about intestinal permeability and gut health in one of my earlier articles, you can read it here)  

Given this background, we can now appreciate the role of our immune system. The role of our immune system is primarily that of tolerance- surveillance for threats and then NOT react. Thus, most immune function in our body occurs without our knowledge. However, under fire due to the multiple forces at play, our immune system (and especially that of our children where the immune system is still developing) is increasingly overwrought and confused. This imbalance in the immune system along with the associated chronic underlying inflammation can show up as "symptoms".

Symptoms are a way of our body asking for "help". But only too often we either treat these symptoms as "irritants" (like fever, earache, runny nose, tummy ache and headache in children) to be medicated or otherwise as signs of "growing old" (like swollen or achy joints, migraines, skin rashes, fatigue, depression, digestive issues in adults). When we keep ignoring the body's distress communication, the symptoms ultimately manifest as "clinical diseases" like diabetes, asthma, autoimmune diseases and others. Ultimately, medication is not a long term solution to getting well, healing the root cause of any kind of imbalance is. 

The role of our gut in our immune system

Our gut plays a very important role as a part of our immune system. In fact, more than 2/3 of our entire immune system resides in our gut! The integrity of the gut mucosal lining is important for a balanced immune response and any damage can lead to various health challenges like protein deficiency, leaky gut/intestinal permeability and constipation. Also, a balanced gut microbiome helps to keep the immune balanced and not over-reactive (otherwise leading to allergy, asthma, arthritis and other autoimmune conditions). It is important to remember that whatever happens in the gut, affects the rest of the body. Not just as a nutrient deficiency but as inflammation! And as we know now, inflammation is at the root of many chronic conditions.

Intestinal permeability (leaky gut) can further develop in the gut aggravating the situation by triggering a strong immune response. This can be caused due to various factors like Vitamin D deficiency, antibiotics, gut microbial imbalance, gluten, stress, toxins, medications, stress and highly processed foods.

(Image source: Asian Scientist July 2014)

(I have written about intestinal permeability and gut health in one of my earlier articles, you can read it here)  

Allergies, asthma and eczema- how it all comes together

Key sources of inflammation like foods, toxins and intestinal permeability in our gut play a key role in the activation of allergies, asthma and eczema (and even other childhood diseases) but there can be other contributors as well such as

  • Birth by C section and not being breast fed
  • Low Vitamin D
  • Nutrient deficiencies (Zinc, Vitamin A, Omega 3)
  • Environmental toxin exposure and poor detoxification capability
  • High antibiotic use and other medications like NSAID (affecting gut lining integrity and the microbiome)
  • Family history

There is a loss of tolerance which shows up as an inflammatory response to a typically innocuous substance in the environment in case of allergies (food, pollen, chemical, medication etc). As a key part of the immune response, cells secrete chemicals which are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

However, if the response is chronic or inappropriate (which is true for many people today), this can lead to chronic inflammation which can then be harmful. In particular, food sensitivities are an immune system response to certain foods (like wheat, dairy, corn, soy and many others) which have become a common occurrence in children today due to this type of immune system dysregulation. 

 

Asthma is a chronic airway inflammatory disease and once again the root cause of this inflammation can be toxins, infections, allergens. This may be different from the asthmatic triggers like dust, smoke, certain foods. However, the underlying chronic inflammation can make the system more sensitive to these triggers and this factor has led to a steep rise in the incidence of asthma in children today.

Similarly, eczema is an external symptom of an internal problem of an immune system which has become hypersensitive to the environment. Once again, like asthma and allergies, eczema occurs when there is an imbalance in the body's immune system and it is actually a sign that the body is inflamed from within.

In ALL of these cases then, the solution is to figure out what's wrong and lower the inflammation and not just treat the symptoms. This is what healed my daughter's extremely severe eczema and got her off all her oral and topical medications (which she had been on for 5 long years). You can read about our story here.

True healing starts from within

As you probably realise by now, we need to work along with our body and give it the full support it needs in order to heal. For our children, finding out the root cause, eliminating the triggers (foods, allergens, toxins, infection)and lowering inflammation in order to calm and balance the immune system is the key to true healing.

Some key takeaways from this article are

beware the prevailing definitions of being "normal"

our immune system and our gut are intricately linked

our "symptoms" are our body's distress signal

childhood conditions like allergies, eczema and asthma are all external symptoms of an immune system imbalance

chronic inflammation lies at the root of these (and other) conditions

lowering inflammation and finding out the root cause is the KEY to this health challenge

 

(I will be writing more about the steps that you can take in subsequent articles)

To know more on this topic-

PLEASE JOIN ME FOR A LIVE WEBINAR "Is your child's immune system at risk?"

Date: 15th February, Friday
Time:1230 PM
Duration: 60 minutes

You can REGISTER for the webinar by clicking HERE

I will be covering the following in this LIVE webinar-

how the new "normal" for children's health has become chronic illness
rise in chronic inflammation in children leading to eczema, allergies and asthma
gut health and immunity
honouring the body's innate ability to heal
how to get started

Also, those who REGISTER for the webinar will get a free handout on "Resources for managing allergies, asthma and eczema". 

Date: Friday, 15th February

Time: 1230 pm (60 min)

Click HERE to register

Resources for further reading

What is epigenetics? -  https://www.whatisepigenetics.com/fundamentals/

Early Nutrition as a Major Determinant of 'Immune Health': Implications for Allergy, Obesity and Other Noncommunicable Diseases.-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27088328

Epigenetics: The New Frontier in the Landscape of Asthma-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4879257/

Linking allergy to autoimmune disease-  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471490609000076

Serum IgG antibodies to gliadin and other dietary antigens in adults with atopic eczema-  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2230.1985.tb00561.x

A Functional Approach to Eczema-  https://kresserinstitute.com/functional-approach-eczema/

 

 

Join me for a LIVE webinar “Is your child’s immune system at risk?”

Is Your Child’s Immune System at Risk_

Join me for a LIVE webinar "Is your child's immune system at risk?" ON 15th FEBRUARY, FRIDAY AT 1230 PM

In this webinar I will be discussing the following-

how the new "normal" for children's health has become chronic illness
a rise in chronic inflammation in children leading to eczema, allergies and asthma
gut health and immunity
honouring the body's innate ability to heal
how to get started

REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR

Why an elimination diet is usually the starting point for embarking on your health journey

Do you suffer from any of the following?

Allergies

Muscle and joint pain

Headaches and migraines

Eczema and rashes

Stomach aches and pains

Bloating

Indigestion

Constipation or diarrhea

Acid reflux

Fatigue

Sugar cravings

Skin disorders like eczema, hives and acne

Weight gain or weight loss resistance

Sleeping issues

You would most likely notice allergic reactions which can cause a noticeable type of immune response which can also be life threatening types of immune response and or at the very least are mildly irritating. An allergy is a damaging immune response to a substance to which one has become hypersensitive and is what we are likely to be most familiar with. Allergies are caused by exposure to certain substances like foods (like nuts, eggs, dairy, soy etc), organisms (mould, dust mites), plants/pollens (ragweed etc), chemicals, medications and others. Symptoms can appear within a few seconds to a few hours.

Food sensitivities and intolerances, on the other hand, are often what we miss out on. The symptoms present themselves in so many different ways and you could experience any one or more of the symptoms listed above or not notice anything at all. How your body reacts to different foods and triggers is highly individualistic in nature. Food intolerances usually occur when the body is unable to digest certain foods (such as dairy, artificial food dyes, artificial sweeteners, MSG) or when your digestive system becomes irritated by them. Enzyme deficiencies are usually the cause in many cases of food intolerances.

Please keep in mind that for some people, there may be no digestive symptoms whatsoever inspite of having food sensitivities! That is a major reason why we are not able to connect the dots between what we eat and the health issues that we are suffering from.

Why you need to do an Elimination diet

There are trillions of commensal bacteria in our gut (large intestine) and whose health is crucial for optimal gut health. These bacteria along with other microorganisms are collectively called our “microbiome” and are directly responsible for our weight, health and disease. An emerging body of research shows that any alterations in our microbiome play an important role in the development of food allergies and sensitivities. Once there is an imbalance in the number of beneficial bacteria, it can impair immune tolerance in allergic sensitisation or food sensitivities. You can read about this in details in a post that I have written earlier on this topic here.

Food remains the most important piece in the puzzle and the first step towards improving our gut health. By eliminating certain trigger foods which are causing your symptoms by creating chronic inflammation in your body you can begin working on healing your gut. The best way to discover your food sensitivities is to complete an elimination diet where you take out the most common inflammatory foods like for a period of at least 6 weeks (preferably 3 months) and then add back the foods  to your diet one at a time to see if you have a reaction.

The most common food sensitivities are to the following foods

Gluten containing grains like wheat, rye and barley (including products like maida, rava, suji and baked products like breads, biscuits/cookies, pastas etc)

Dairy products like milk, dahi (yogurt), paneer (cottage cheese), butter (ghee is usually not an issue)

Corn

Soy

Shellfish

Oranges and citrus fruits

Eggs

Yeast (baking yeast, vinegar)

For this reason, elimination diet remains a cornerstone in my practice of guiding my clients towards better health.

An elimination diet...

  • Helps uncover hidden food sensitivities- It uncovers your hidden food sensitivities and is considered the gold standard for uncovering food sensitivities so there is no more second guessing about which foods are causing your symptoms. During the reintroduction phase, you'll bring back the foods you eliminated one by one, so you notice exactly what foods don't agree with your system.
  • Helps calm inflammation- Many chronic health problems, from weight gain to fatigue, involve one common cause: inflammation. An elimination diet, by taking out triggering foods, gives your body a chance to calm inflammation in your body and help it to heal.
  • Supports a healthy microbiome- By taking out inflammatory trigger foods, the elimination diet helps by providing healthy and wholesome foods. This is the first step towards healing your gut by providing your body with foods that are rich in anti oxidants, vitamins and minerals
  • Boosts your energy- By removing the trigger foods and lowering inflammation in your body, your body gets a chance to reach its optimal energy levels
  • Is not an anti food programme- On the contrary by consuming nourishing, healing and wholesome foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, you are nourishing your body while at the same time having delicious foods.
  • Allows you to customise a food plan that works for YOU- Once you have completed the elimination phase and start reintroducing foods once again, not only do you uncover your food sensitivities, you also realise which foods your body thrives on. This allows you to customise a food plan that is right for YOU and frees you from ever having to follow a "diet" again.
  • Increases body awareness to food- During the elimination and most often in the reintroduction phase, many develop an increasing awareness of foods that trigger symptoms in the body. Being on the Elimination Diet for even a few weeks can lead to changes in the taste buds and a greater level of sensitivity about which foods cause changes in the body. This helps us to become more mindful of the foods that we eat and also learn how to make certain changes from time to time depending on our body's requirements.

Food can be both problematic or healing depending on how you handle it. When you learn to identify the foods that are good for you and crowd out the ones which are a problem, you are on your way towards creating health.

As you learn to love and have foods which are good for you, you start seeing the results- losing excess weight, eliminating aches and pains and increase in energy levels.

Webinar on “Elimination diet- the beginning of your healing journey”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS WEBINAR

I covered the following in my webinar 

Basics of an elimination diet

Why you should be doing it if you want to improve your health

How it can help uncover the hidden food sensitivities that are behind many of your symptoms

How an elimination diet helps lower inflammation in the body

Foods that need to be eliminated in this diet

What comes after an Elimination Diet

 

A sense of gratitude as we welcome 2019

 

I have been meaning to write a post on all the things that I am grateful for in my life and I find that the beginning of this new year is a good time to do just that. This sense of gratitude was reinforced multifold today morning as I started clearing out some old documents from my home office. As I went through some old documents including bank statements, invoices, school notices, old prescriptions from the years past I came across a folder containing some medical reports and hospital discharge papers.

These were from 2013 from the time when our daughter had been hospitalised in the Intensive Care Unit for about a month with a severe life threatening infection. Her hospitalisation was due to a drug induced reaction which resulted in her battling for her life. She had been on various systemic immunosuppressive medications for the past year or so to keep her extremely severe eczema under control. The new medication had been started just 3 weeks earlier after the necessary precautionary tests but which nonetheless had had a disastrous effect on her immune system. It was the most harrowing time in our lives as she struggled to overcome the infection with the help of antibiotics and other medications. To cut a long story short, she overcame this phase in her life, celebrated her 7th birthday while in the hospital and 2 weeks after her birthday, she was discharged. This year proved to be a turning point in my life even though I did not know it at that time.

As I went through those papers today, those memories came rushing back and my breath got stuck in my chest. Earlier, I would have also been likely to experience a rush of fear, anger, uncertainty, sadness whenever I would think of what our daughter had been through, what all of us had been through. But time had healed many wounds and assuaged many fears.

 

TODAY......

I felt a sense of.........GRATITUDE

I realised that I had finally stopped waiting for her eczema to return for some reason or the other; in other words, I could stop waiting for the "other shoe to drop"; I felt a sense of ......RELIEF

I knew that I had the strength and the tools needed to deal with such difficult situations in the future as well; I was surrounded by a sense of....... BELIEF

I knew that in spite of my best efforts and intentions there would be times that I may fail or make mistakes and that I would forgive myself; I found in myself a sense of......... COMPASSION

As I discarded the papers which I had been holding on to for 5 years, I realised that I was truly ready to move on. That particular phase of our life was behind us now. And while I would never have asked for such an experience had I been given choice, I also realise that it has been a truly TRANSFORMATIVE phase in our lives.

MOSTLY I realised that finally today I was ready to....... LET GO

Our struggles and our learnings during those difficult years have shaped us in many ways which are most precious. As a family, we experienced the love and support of our friends, family and the medical professionals who guided us along this difficult journey. Personally, I was forced far beyond my comfort zone to a place of strength I never knew existed deep inside of me. This strength combined with love propelled me on a journey that I could have never visualised for myself. I had to find ways to nourish and heal our daughter's body, mind and spirit. I did so by focussing inwards rather than outwards.

(I have written a three part series on self care which you can read using the links given below-

https://aninditarungta.com/take-back-the-power-to-heal-yourself/

https://aninditarungta.com/you-cannot-drink-from-an-empty-cup/

https://aninditarungta.com/getting-to-know-yourself-part-3/)

As I found ways to know myself better through self care, meditation, movement and other modalities, I found ways to help heal our daughter. I found that as I became more grounded, it helped me make better decisions regarding her care and treatment. It also helped me to prioritise and focus on what was truly important instead of getting carried away and becoming distracted all the time. In other words, my own growth as a person helped in our daughter's healing journey

Embarking on a journey to help our daughter led to me the doors of Functional Medicine and in 2015 we started her on this mode of treatment of finding and addressing the root cause of her eczema. As we supported her body with the nutrients that it needed and removed the obstacles standing in its way, her body started to heal from within. Over a period of 2 years her eczema gradually disappeared and in October 2017 she went off all her medications. She is a living example of how we can truly heal ourselves if we know how and believe in ourselves.

But that is not all. Our daughter's life is also an example of how one person's experience can touch and impact so many other lives.

It is because of this experience that I am able to

Share my gifts with you as a Health Coach

Stand by you as you find your way back towards health and healing

Point out to you your strengths which can aid you in your healing journey but which you may be unable to see at this time

Show compassion towards you if you fall off the bandwagon so that you learn to forgive yourself and get back on track as soon as you can

Uphold your belief in your own power to heal as you struggle through your darkest days; to let you know that you are not ALONE 

And so from a place of despair, we can slowly but steadily move to a place of strength and true healing ....TOGETHER

As someone had said, "Sometimes strength comes in knowing you are not alone"

I wish you and your family HEALTH and HAPPINESS in 2019!!

Book review- “Hold on to your kids- Why parents need to matter more than peers

I read a TON of books on various subjects including parenting for both professional and personal reasons. But very rarely does a book grab my attention the way that this book has. As the name itself suggests, this book is about parenting but it differs from the other books I have read on this topic in a very important way. It brought to my notice a phenomenon many of our children (especially in the urban areas) are facing today but mostly goes unnoticed and under the radar by their parents. It is the phenomenon of "peer orientation".

Before I delve briefly on what "peer orientation" is about I would like to highlight a few of the other points that the authors make in this book. Parental influence has always been well established over generations and is considered indisputable and irreplaceable, but sadly that is no longer true in many ways in today's world. The problems that our children face today has reached epic proportions both in terms of mental and physical health. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, lack of self control, bullying, suicide, loss of resiliency, stress have increased exponentially. If these issues had not been there and our children were well adjusted, settled and positively grounded and content we would not need to worry much, but that is not the case in many societies across the globe. Parents have as much love, concern and good intentions for their children as did the preceding generations and there is a lot of parenting literature to help them. Inspite of this, something has shifted fundamentally and this book should serve as a wake-up call for you are much as it did for me.

As the authors have pointed out, the entire context in which parenting takes place has changed. As a result, the role of the parent is being undermined by forces that most parents are not aware of and are not ready to deal with. The critically important attachment relationship between parents and their children which is at the foundation of parenting is in danger. The authors put forward powerful reasons why this is so and show in this book why the main and the most damaging reason is the competing attachments that children today are developing with their peers.

The authors call this "peer orientation". This competing attachment is undermining parental authority and also diminishing the attachment that the child needs to have with the parent as long as the child needs to be parented.

The book brings about a few critical points about "peer orientation"  and some of the important ones are

  • children like any other warm blooded mammals have a natural instinct for orientation; they need to be guided and nurtured by someone
  • children cannot be oriented both towards adults and their peers at the same time; they must necessarily CHOOSE between the two
  • even though this phenomenon is now becoming "normal", it is not "natural" or "healthy" and has negative consequences in the long run

We need to become conscious of this need for attachment that all humans have (adults and children). This is what creates communities, families and keeps us all connected emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally and physically with each other. This connection could be taken for granted in many ways in the preceding generations. But that no longer holds true for us today.

The book describes in details the six different ways of attaching- senses, sameness, belonging and loyalty, significance, feeling and being known. If these bonds of attachment are strong and development is healthy, these facets are interwoven closely into a strong bond and children will find ways of staying close and holding on even when physically apart from their parents. However, peer oriented children live in a world filled with severely limited and superficial attachments driven by the least vulnerable way of attaching- sameness. This explains their need to resemble one another in look, behaviour, thoughts, tastes and values.

The other disturbing revelation for me was the false independence that a peer oriented child portrays and which seems to be a good thing. On the contrary, they are still dependent but now they depend on their peers for guidance - a set of people who are NOT truly dependable, mature, appropriate, responsible or compassionate. 

Many parents do intuitively know and sense that something is just not right with their relationship with their children but may not know what is exactly wrong. Beneath many parent's anger and frustration of failing to connect and parent their children lies a sense of hurt and betrayal. This intuitive feeling is usually ignored and pushed under the carpet by relegating this to "normal teenage issues" or some other such cause. This works for many parents till it stops working at all. In an extreme situation, this can end with a teen committing suicide as she is unable cope with or has problems getting along with her peers. Usually though, this plays out in the forms of rude behaviour, name calling, increased aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality all of which are discussed in details in this book.

Collecting and reclaiming our children

The good news is, however, that this book also discusses in details how to "reclaim our children". For those children who are not very far down the roads with peers can be "collected" and the attachment relationship can be strengthened in four simple ways- get in the child's face or space in a friendly way, provide something for the child to hold on to, invite independence and act as the child's compass point.

For those children who are too insulated by peer attachments will need additional efforts which are explained in the chapters towards the end of the book-

Preserve the ties that empower

Discipline that does not divide

Don't court the competition

Recreate the attachment village

The last chapter also deals with the role that technology plays in our children's lives and in the parent- child relationship. I am very wary not about the digital revolution per se but about the negative impact it has on children who are too young to handle it. Timing is everything and it is as true in the case of digital gadgets or video games as it is in the case of alcohol or sex with regards to children.

I love this quote from the last chapter

"We want children to be fulfilled with what they truly need before they have access to that which would spoil their appetite for what they truly need"

I hope this book review has opened your eyes to the issues that you may be facing yourself with your children or some other family you know may be facing. Let this serve as a wake up call for you (as it has for me) and also give you HOPE that there is a lot that can be done to undo the damage. We need to be aware of this if we are to raise children who mature into compassionate, genuinely independent, resilient adults who go on to lead purposeful lives and contribute to society.

I had written about raising children who are resilient in my earlier post "To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent" and you can read it HERE. I had also conducted a Facebook live on this very topic which you can watch HERE.

I have an upcoming free webinar next Thursday, 29th November at 1 pm on "Mindful strengths parenting"  for which you can register on my Facebook page "Nourish Heal Connect".

Webinar- "Mindful strengths parenting"

Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent” and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and like many other things needs practice before we can get better at it. At the same time, strengths based parenting can provide our children with 2 vital psychological tools- optimism and resilience. Infact, helping our children connect to their strengths during difficult times is one of the most important things we can do for them. I will be touching on "peer orientation" briefly in this webinar as it very relevant for us as parents to be aware of.
 
Date: Thursday, 29th November

Time: 1 pm

Venue: "Nourish Heal Connect"