Does your child have asthma, eczema, allergies, autism or ADHD? These childhood conditions have been increasing significantly over recent years. But why is it so common to see atopic conditions, neurodevelopmental conditions and allergies in children?
There isn’t one simple answer because these conditions are complex and have many contributing factors. But there are steps you can take to help alleviate your child’s symptoms naturally.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn about why these conditions are so common, and what you can do to help.
Exploring The Rise Of Eczema, Asthma, Autism, ADHD And Allergies In Children
The statistics around allergies in children
Allergies are now the most common health concern when it comes to children’s health. They are among the fastest-growing group of diseases in Australia, with almost 20% of the population having at least one type of allergic condition. Allergic conditions include food and environmental allergies, but also conditions such as eczema, asthma and hayfever.
Some other significant statistics about allergic conditions in Australia include:
- 10% of infants have a proven food allergy – making us one of the highest countries in the world
- 10% of people are diagnosed with asthma
- 1 in 4 children will develop eczema before the age of 2
- It’s predicted that if something doesn’t change, by 2050 the number of people with these conditions in Australia will increase by 70%. That means that around 7.7 million Australians will be affected by one or more of these diseases.
It’s only been in recent times that these types of conditions have become a significant issue. Up until the 1960s, asthma was a relatively rare condition. Peanut allergies became more common after 1995. So it’s clear that something has happened over the past few decades to affect the rates of allergies in children.
What is causing asthma, eczema and allergies in children?
There isn’t one root cause for these issues, as they are quite complex. However, we do know some of the contributing factors that may be playing a role in the increase of allergic conditions.
This is one cause that is often cited. While genes do play a part and make someone more vulnerable, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Diet and environmental factors can switch on and off specific genes. So we often say that genetics is only the loaded gun, but it’s diet, lifestyle and environment that pulls the trigger.
Hygiene and sanitation practices
These are known as a big contributor to allergies in children. There are villages in Africa with no sanitation that have no issues with allergies.
When you think about how the immune system works, this makes sense. Allergic conditions are caused by a confused immune system reacting to things that it shouldn’t react to. The immune system is developed and taught how to function through exposure to microbes. So if we’re not being exposed to these microbes thanks to hygiene and sanitation, our immune systems can’t develop properly.
As Dr Maya Shetreat-Klein says:
Our immune cells are social and seem to have a quota for the number of organisms they want to meet and greet each day. Without a stream of diverse microbes to identify, they become crotchety and paranoid, and target what does come through every day, like food.
There is more to hygiene than the hand sanitisers we use these days. Water is now treated and chlorinated, so we’re no longer exposed to microbes in the water we drink. Much of our food is sanitised – dairy products are pasteurised, preservatives are added to foods, crops are sprayed with pesticides, and even our soils are sanitised.
These practices are in place to keep us from getting sick. But they do have consequences for immunity and allergies.
Reduced exposure to outdoors
We are spending more time indoors than ever before. But this means that we’re not exposed to microbes in the soil that can teach the immune system. Many of us have a reduced exposure to animals that are another source of microbes.
This also has the effect of exposing us to more indoor allergens such as dust mites.
Birth and feeding practices
The training of your immune system starts from birth. When it comes to allergies in children, how they were born and fed can make a big difference.
When a baby is born vaginally, they are exposed to mum’s microbes through the birth canal. On the other hand, a C-section birth is more sterile, so babies don’t get a chance to pick up microbes.
Breast milk supplies a baby’s immune system with long-lasting support as it develops. Children who are not breastfed can have a higher risk of developing allergic conditions.
Of course, there are good reasons for C-sections and not breastfeeding. If your child does have a higher risk because of these, you just want to be more conscious about supporting their immune system from now on.
Many medications can affect the health of the gut and therefore the immune system.
Early use of antibiotics can have a significant impact on the gut microbiome, especially in the first 6 months of life. Sometimes these antibiotics are warranted, but we need to make sure that they are only used when necessary. If your child does need antibiotics, you also want to ensure you follow it up with gut health support.
Another common medication is reflux medication. This is the most prescribed drug in infants. It suppresses the production of stomach acid, which interferes with how they digest proteins.
Undigested proteins can then travel to the lower part of the digestive tract and be absorbed into the bloodstream. These proteins can trigger the immune system, and are thought to play a role in food allergies and intolerances.
The immune system is powered by nutrients. Unfortunately, the typical Western diet lacks many key nutrients thanks to the increased intake of processed foods. Low zinc, vitamin D, antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals can contribute to immune dysfunction and the allergy epidemic.
Another nutrient missing from the Western diet is fibre. Fibre is essential for feeding the good bugs in the gut. These bugs produce short-chain fatty acids that protect the gut and help to shape the immune response.
What about neuro-developmental conditions?
There has been a 42% increase in the diagnosis of autism between 2012 and 2015.
Many people believe that this is about increased awareness, improvements in diagnostic practices and NDIS funding. But we can’t ignore the effect of diet and environmental influences, because the rate of autism has been skyrocketing for the past few decades.
In the 1980s, 1 in 10,000 was diagnosed with autism.
In the 1990s, it jumped to 2500.
Nowadays, 1 in 70 kids is diagnosed.
When it comes to ADHD, the rate is around 1 in 20 kids. That means that almost every classroom in Australia will have at least one child with diagnosed ADHD.
Like allergies, genetics is the loaded gun, and environmental and diet factors pull the trigger. Many children with autism or ADHD have issues with detoxification pathways, so environmental factors are even more likely to pull the trigger.
Some of the contributing factors to consider include:
A number of nutrients have been linked to autism and ADHD. Mothers with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have a child with autism. Many kids with autism or ADHD are deficient in omega-3s, which play an important role in brain development and nervous system function. Zinc deficiency is often associated with these conditions as well.
Sensitivities and intolerances
Kids with neuro-developmental issues will almost always present with some sort of digestive problem. Many are sensitive or intolerant to foods, although it may not be as obvious as a food allergy.
Many of these kids will have problems with the proteins gluten and casein. These proteins cross into the bloodstream and through the blood-brain barrier, affecting their cognitive functions. This is why it’s often recommended to trial them on a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet.
What can we do to address these conditions?
If your child has already developed one or more of these health issues, what can you do? We can’t cure them, but we can nourish them so that their bodies function properly and their symptoms can reduce.
There are 3 main areas to focus on when it comes to managing these types of conditions:
Nutrition & diet
Many people focus on eliminating foods. But the key step for their diet is to look at how you can improve their nutrient intake. How can you improve what they have at the moment?
You want to ensure that they are eating wholefoods, because wholefoods are the best source of nutrients. So look at how you can add a little more into every day.
If they will only eat honey sandwiches on white bread, sprinkle a few chia seeds as a starting point. If they love chocolate milkshakes, add a few leaves of spinach into the blender. Sneak one or two veggies into spaghetti bolognese. Make pancakes using buckwheat flour instead of white flour.
The good part about this? As you increase their wholefood intake, it will naturally reduce the amount of processed foods they eat.
There are some simple shifts to make around how your kids spend their time.
The first is to get your kids outside as much as possible. You want to create fun things to do outside, especially as they get older. This might mean family trips to national parks, camping, or even just walks to the park.
You also want to set some boundaries around screen time. The time kids spend on screens is time that isn’t spent outdoors.
When it comes to hygiene, switch the antibacterial products for soap and water! They will still prevent infection, but will have less of an impact on gut health long-term.
Support gut health
By supporting gut health, you are supporting the function of the immune system and the nervous system. A healthy gut is a gut that can absorb plenty of nutrients, so you’re also supporting their growth and development overall.
Want to learn simple ways to support your child’s gut health naturally? Make sure you download our free Kids Gut Health ebook here.