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 CLICK HERE TO WATCH A RECORDING OF MY WEBINAR "Is your child's immune system at risk?"

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

You can WATCH the recording of this webinar by clicking HERE

I covered the following in this 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

Click HERE to watch the recording

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/

 

 

Watch the recording of the webinar “Is your child’s immune system at risk?”

Is Your Child’s Immune System at Risk_

Watch the recording of the webinar "Is your child's immune system at risk?

In this webinar I covered 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

WATCH THE RECORDING OF 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!!

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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