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/

 

 

What you need to know about “leaky gut” and how it affects our health

"All disease begins in the gut"

Hippocrates had said more than 2000 years ago and it is being proved by science to be true today.

You may have heard the term "leaky gut" since it increasingly in the news lately. The "gut" part that we are referring to in "leaky gut" is a specific part which is our "intestines". Any damage to the internal lining can lead to a cascade of health issues. The cells that line the gut wall keep bacteria, undigested or partially digested food and toxins from entering our blood stream. The gut lining is in fact selectively permeable and only allows digested food particles to enter the body under normal circumstances. Also, it is our body's first line of defense against foreign particles entering into our body and about 70% of the immune system resides in our "gut". But, if for some reason, this one cell thick gut lining becomes damaged and starts allowing large protein molecules and other foreign bodies to go through, our body naturally mounts an immune response and attacks them.

Our gut is also home to trillions of microbes and our body actually has about 10 times more bacterial than human cells!

Our gut flora is responsible many important functions like manufacturing and absorbing key vitamins; maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, promoting normal digestive function, providing protection from infection and regulating our metabolism. If there is any imbalance in our gut flora, the above mentioned functions can get disrupted leading to weight loss resistance, metabolic disorders, allergies and many other common modern diseases.

The triggers for this gut health imbalance can be

  • medications and other medications like antacids and NSAID (Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs)
  • chronic stress
  • chronic infections
  • poor diet which comprises refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • low fibre diet
  • high toxin exposure from household products and environment

An unhealthy gut can eventually lead to leaky gut due to a reduction in biodiversity leading to a preponderance of pathogenic bacteria over healthy ones. These pathogenic bacteria produce endotoxins (toxins generated inside the body) like LPS or lipopolysaccharide which can be harmful to our health. Our body does not like LPS and the immune system attacks it with full force thus beginning an inflammatory process. This inflammatory response is helpful initially but if it goes on long enough, then what should have been a temporary attack leads to chronic inflammation. This chronic intestinal inflammation can lead to breaches at critical junctions in the gut lining leading to what I have mentioned earlier in this post as "intestinal permeability" or "leaky gut".

One thing that is important to note at this point is: you do not have to necessarily suffer from digestive symptoms to have a leaky gut. 

It can manifest as other conditions like

  • skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis
  • asthma
  • arthritis
  • autism
  • food sensitivities
  • autoimmune conditions
  • thyroid issues
  • weight loss resistance
  • type 1 and type 2 diabetes and many more

Healing the gut

The gut starts healing the when the damage stops and the nutrients for healing are readily available. Starting with food, we can make several changes to our diet which can help restore our gut flora. I will be covering the 5R gut healing protocol that we use in Functional Medicine in another post in details.

Some basic steps that you can take to heal your gut are

  • eat whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fibre, focusing more on plant foods
  • if you think you have food sensitivities, try an Elimination Diet (I will be covering this in another article)
  • add plenty of healthy fats like omega 3
  • have foods rich in gut healing nutrients like zinc and glutamine
  • add more fermented foods like yogurt/dahi, kefir and sauerkrat

 

Ready to find out how you can start your own gut healing protocol?

Schedule a 60 minutes "Initial Health Session" session with me today!

What is an autoimmune disease and why you need to know about it

I have mentioned in my earlier post about how chronic conditions are increasing worldwide. And inflammatory chronic conditions like autoimmune conditions, allergies, asthma and arthritis are increasing at dramatic rates. Hidden food sensitivities, stress, toxins, inflammatory foods and poor lifestyle are usually the real reason for these inflammatory conditions.

Autoimmune conditions prevail when your body's immune system attacks it's own tissues rather a potentially dangerous foreign substance like an allergen, bacteria or virus, a toxin. The immune system fails to differentiate between the foreign molecule and parts of your body and develops antibodies against itself rather than the intruders. In some cases it’s your thyroid under attack, in others it’s your intestines, or your skin, your brain, your pancreas, or another organ. There are more than 100 types of known autoimmune diseases that have been classified. For instance rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease among many others.

Various symptoms associated with autoimmune conditions (but not limited to) are

  • joint pain, muscle pain, weakness or tremor
  • feeling tired or fatigued, weight gain or cold intolerance
  • dry eyes, mouth or skin
  • difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • weight loss, chronic diarrhea

The role of chronic inflammation

Apart from a complex genetic component, research shows that all autoimmune conditions have an epigenetic component as well. That means that a large part of the risk for developing an autoimmune disease is due to lifestyle factors; in other words, how much you move, what you eat, how you live your life, your social connections and your exposure to environmental toxins play a very large role. Due to this reason, chronic and systemic inflammation due to the misplaced immune response is an underlying factor for many autoimmune conditions. The good news is that by finding out source of the inflammation can help in managing the condition. This is where Functional Medicine can play an important role.

There are only a handful of Functional Medicine practitioners in India as of now; you can find them on the Institute of Functional Medicine website. There are many medical professionals (based in the US and UK) who are trained in the Functional Medicine paradigm whom you can reach out to as they do consultations online.

Some things to think about

Since autoimmune conditions develop due to the body's immune system going rogue, the solution lies in getting the immune system back under control. I will discuss this in more details in a separate post later, but there are some basic steps that you can take today to move towards health and vitality-

  • Consume a maximally nutrient-dense diet and avoids foods that you have a sensitivity towards (this can be identified by doing a comprehensive elimination diet)
  • Reduce your toxin exposure
  • Move your body and activate and use your muscles.
  • Control your stress hormones using restorative practices (yoga, tai chi, massage, deep breathing) and meditation
  • Maintain or build social connections with supportive people

My role as a Health Coach

My role as a Functional Medicine certified Health Coach is to guide and support you in taking the steps mentioned above. Even with knowing what needs to be done, it is not always easy to make the necessary changes. Keeping the principles of Functional Medicine in mind, I guide my clients through the process of making important lifestyle and dietary changes.

In my coaching sessions you can expect customised guidance and support on

nutrition

– movement

– sleep and relaxation

– social relationships and connections

– mindfulness and stress management

If you are interested in knowing more about how I can help you, please feel free to contact me using the form below


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What is Functional Medicine and how it can help those suffering from chronic conditions

Functional Medicine is a science based approach to tackling diseases which stems from the advance of scientific understanding of biology based on systems thinking. This systems biology approach is based on biomedical research to understand the picture as a whole whether it is at the level of the organism, tissue, or cell and it is done by putting all the pieces together. Thus the approach towards treating a disease is to treat the person as a whole and not just the symptoms. This is actually been the approach of practices like ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine honed over thousands of years of evolution to promote wellness and healing rather than focusing solely on “treating” a disease. The connection between mind and body are also taken into consideration since it was known that for healing to take place we need to look beyond the body to include mind and spirit as well. This means that mindfulness and lifestyle choices are equally important for maintaining health and treatment of any medical condition.

The “why” of a chronic condition

The focus of Functional Medicine is on finding out the “why” behind the symptoms rather than only the “what”. This is done to provide a way of understanding all the influences on our health which are at the root of illness. At the same time, this is also to understand how our lifestyle and environment interact with our genes to create imbalances which can then lead to symptoms and disease. The disease occurs as the body tries to correct any imbalances and if this is not addressed, the condition can progress and worsen.

However, for treating any acute and urgent medical condition like an infectious disease, heart attack, physical trauma and other acute illnesses which need prompt diagnosis, conventional medicine can work wonders and save lives. Conventional medicine has become extremely effective in developing techniques and using technology to treat these acute problems.

The healing process

Functional Medicine believes that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. As we remove the obstacles in the way of the healing process and provide the body with all the nutrients that it needs, we give our bodies a fighting chance to heal itself. This is true for anyone suffering from a chronic condition and was also true for my daughter’s healing journey.

She suffered from extremely severe eczema for many years and was under very strong medications (oral steroids and immunosuppressive medications) to manage her symptoms. I started her on Functional Medicine medicine treatment in mid 2015 when she was 9 years old and we focused on healing her gut which was in poor shape. With help of proper nutrition, lifestyle changes ( which I had already started earlier) and some natural supplements, her eczema disappeared over time and she went off all medications last October. As the root cause was identified and treated, the disease went away.

Functional Medicine and chronic conditions

 

I have already written about how chronic conditions are on the rise in the 21st century. We are actually seeing an epidemic of autoimmune conditions, allergic and asthmatic diseases all over the world. There is also an increase in cancer, obesity, heart problems, diabetes and cognitive decline.  We all know of this either personally or through the suffering of someone close to us.

 

 

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way

By finding out the root cause and tailoring the treatment to each person, Functional Medicine can support the normal healing powers of the body rather than just attacking the disease itself. This kind of treatment is personalised, participatory and preventive; the hallmarks of Functional Medicine. In this paradigm, the relationship between the caregiver and the patient is collaborative in nature as the patient learns what works and what doesn’t. As people learn to become more resilient, they can maintain balance and respond effectively to various health challenges like germs, toxins, stresses and lifestyle.

We need to remember that health is not remain merely an absence of disease; instead it is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. (Courtesy: WHO)

By changing our approach towards health, we can stop living and starting thriving…

 

The rise of chronic conditions in the 21st Century

Chronic non communicable diseases are on the rise like never before making them a global epidemic just like infectious diseases like plague, cholera, small pox in the past. In the modern world health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, autism spectrum disorder in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, osteoporosis, depression, autoimmune conditions have become alarmingly common in the developed world and India is fast catching up. In fact as far as diabetes is concerned, India and China are leading the pack with the projected number of diabetics in India expected to touch 79.4 million in 2030 from the 31.7 million in 2004. A more than 100% increase from the levels in 2004!

Also a recent report in 2017 has found that one in three  Indians over 30 years of age are suffering from one or more lifestyle related diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, thyroid and cancer.

Chronic diseases like these lessen the quality of life, shorten our lifespan, shorten the lifespan of future generations and have a huge adverse impact on the economy. Most of these diseases are due to our diet and lifestyle and are mostly treatable and preventable and yet, currently every year they kill twice as many people around the world than infectious diseases.

We are unfortunately slowly starting to think that living with a chronic condition is “normal”. Also, the consequences of living with a chronic condition are profound and its killing us all slowly. Conventional medicine was constructed to deal with acute conditions like infectious diseases (which are due to a single agent like bacteria or virus), medical emergencies like acute injuries, stroke and heart attack. It is thus not able to effectively deal with the multifactorial and multifaceted chronic diseases arising due to various causes. Chronic diseases are difficult to manage, can last a lifetime and usually require more than one doctor. Infact recent studies show that genetic factors are not the major driver for chronic conditions, 85 percent of chronic disease is caused by diet, lifestyle and environmental toxins.

We thus need a completely different approach and mindset while dealing and treating chronic health conditions. A treatment which is long term in nature with frequent interaction with the patient with an emphasis on finding and treating the root cause of the disease, encouraging behaviour change and a collaborative healthcare team consisting of doctors, health coaches, nutritionists and other allied health professionals would be required.  One such system exists today and is called “Functional Medicine” and I cover more about this in my next post.

Source: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/articleid=10.1371/journal.pone.0154387