Over 5 million people in the UK are receiving treatment for asthma with over a million children. The NHS spends around a billion pounds a year treating this. On average there are around 3 children in every classroom with asthma and the UK has some of the highest prevalence worldwide. Many sufferers also experience eczema and hayfever.
Ask any parent or primary school teacher and they will tell you that we are facing an allergy epidemic. From staff room cupboards filled will inhalers and epi-pens to nuts being banned in school lunch boxes, there is no doubt that we have reached a bit of a crisis in our children’s health. Surely what we need to be asking is why.
With increasing numbers of true food allergies and also 1 in 3 children with one or multiple food sensitivities, lasting long into teens for many children we need to shine a spot light on what could be happening to the immune system.
As Functional medicine practitioners we are trained to look for root cause in all things and we often talk about three key areas that are affecting out immune systems.
1. Damage to the gut microbiome, especially in infancy and early years. (Exposure to antibiotics being a significant one).
2. The western diet is highly processed and lacks the fibre to feed the microbiome and also the much needed micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that we need to optimise immune function. It's also packed with sugars and sweeteners which are not gut/immune friendly.
3. High exposure to environmental pollutants, chemicals in the home, cleaning fluids, toiletries etc. Match that with poor detox pathways in individuals due to genetics and poor bowel function and we begin to set up the perfect storm.
Babies would normally be exposed to mums microbiome as they pass through the birth canal and this sets up the immune system from birth. However, babies born by c-section don't have this early exposure which protects them and are as a consequence five times more likely to develop allergies than those born vaginally. Also many section babies have also received antibiotic exposure through mum due to c-section and also Group B strep treatment.
C-sections can’t always be prevented but fortunately there’s lots we can do to offset this lack of microbial diversity the first being to give baby a probiotic from birth.
The Swansea Study
This was a large study by the University of Swansea Medical School with 454 mother/baby pairs who were given Lab4b probiotics containing Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria both during the final month of pregnancy and the first 6 months of infancy to evaluate whether this would prevent allergy in children. The results showed that versus placebo, the probiotic groups did indeed confer a protective effect on prevention of eczema and also prevention of allergic reaction to common allergens including pollen, cows milk, eggs and dust mites.
Prof. Steve Allen, concluded the following key message from the trial: ‘Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria administered to pregnant women and infants aged 0-6 months prevented atopic sensitization and atopic eczema.
The babies given the Lab4b probiotics were 57% less likely to develop atopic eczema than those receiving the placebo.
The babies given Lab4b were 44% less likely to develop allergic reaction to common allergens, including pollen, cow’s milk, egg and house dust mite.
These are fairly impressive numbers and such a simple strategy that all mums to be would be well advised to take probiotics during the pregnancy and then continue giving to baby after birth.
Introducing food allergens
It is advised to introduce between 6 and 12 months while continuing to breasted during and beyond for an additional 6 months. It is also wise where possible to avoid antibiotics, PPI’s (eg omeprazole) and NSAID’s (ibuprofen) as these set the scene for allergies through damage to the gut lining and microbiome. For babies struggling with symptoms of colic or reflux always seek advice from a baby reflux specialist to establish root cause to avoid these pitfalls.
Eat the rainbow
Eating the rainbow is important as it ensures that we provide a full range of nutrients and also fibre for our microbiome. Snacking on carrot sticks or other veg or pieces of fruit is better than highly processed foods. Be choosy about sugars and avoid unnatural sweeteners. Instead look for raw honey or maple syrup and use sparingly. Drink lots of water in place of sweetened drinks and introduce children to natural sweetness in lemons and limes etc to flavour water or add a herbal tea bag to their water.
Key nutrients for asthma
Vitamin A: Brightly coloured carotenoids like root veggies and sweet potato provide the basis for vitamin A. A study of 68000 women showed that those who consumed the most of these foods had lower rates of asthma and vice versa. Fruit and vegetable intakes and asthma in the E3N study | Thorax (bmj.com)
Vitamin C: Studies suggest vitamin C consumption reduces wheezing.
Magnesium: Magnesium is helpful in bronchial smooth muscle relaxation supporting easier flow of air.
Omega 3: mostly found in oily fish, flax and chia seeds and walnuts this is a nutrient which is commonly deficient in children and adults. Omega 3 can help lower incidence by reducing airway inflammation and dampening down immune system reactivity.
Vitamin D: A Cochrane study which looked at 435 children and 658 adults with mild to moderate asthma showed that those taking vitamin D had fewer asthma attacks, required less use of oral steroids and reduced need for hospital admissions. High quality evidence suggests Vitamin D can reduce asthma attacks | Cochrane
Food Intolerance and Allergy
Food and environmental allergens also play their part. We work with clients through both elimination diets and testing can be done for both IgG food intolerances and IgE food allergies and also environmental allergens.
Essential oils can be really comforting with immediate benefit especially eucalyptus and peppermint. These can be diffused in bedrooms to aid breathing. Come and speak to use about options and how best to use.
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