Posts Tagged ‘diet’

Multiple Allergies – What Does the Rest of the Family Do?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

So one of your family members has been diagnosed with severe allergies to a bunch of foods. It’s not just gluten; it’s not just soy, or eggs, or nightshade, or dairy. It’s all of them. And more. Should you put the whole family on the limited diet or should you cook two separate meals three times a day?

There isn’t really an exact answer to this question. The answer will vary with the family and circumstances. However, I think I could give you some advice based on my experience with first a brother and then a son with multiple allergies, as well as myself having gone gluten-free for our baby (which, by the way, seems to be doing quite well–his eczema has not progressed since I did that).

What exactly you do with the rest of the family’s diet will almost certainly depend on the number of allergies and the severity of the allergies.

For instance, if you have a child that has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, then it would probably be a good idea to banish peanut butter and all peanut-containing products from the home. Almond butter will work just fine, even if it is a bit more expensive–but it’s way cheaper than a trip to the emergency room!

However, if your child (or other family member) has a very large list, but no or few life-threatening allergies, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to make your whole family adopt the special diet. Not only can it get very expensive (especially for a large family), but it would deprive the others of much enjoyment.

You may need to get some extra kitchen equipment if the person has severe, life-threatening allergies to certain things. I already mentioned substituting almond butter for peanut butter. In my home, we have a son who is allergic to peanuts and all other nuts, but he is not highly sensitive to minute amounts of anything. He is actually allergic to most seeds as well as nuts, yet I can use my blender for making pesto for him after making nut milk for the rest of the family, and he has no problem. Of course I clean it first, but I know it isn’t as clean as new. So I haven’t banished peanut butter and other nuts. He just never gets any. This is nice for us, but many families will need to take into consideration getting separate equipment for items that cannot be perfectly cleaned (like blenders, bread machine pans, toasters, etc; pans and dishes and silverware shouldn’t be a problem if thoroughly cleaned).

Does this mean you need to cook 6 meals a day? Not necessarily. It depends on the list. Suppose you have someone allergic to wheat, and the family wants sandwiches. Just use wheat- or gluten-free bread for that person. Allergic to potatoes? Put a sweet potato in a separate pan while baking potatoes for the rest of the family. Allergic to dairy? Cook some of the lasagna in a separate pan without the cheese (use tofu or quinoa or some other seasoned filler instead of ricotta and leave off the mozzarella).

If there is a long list of allergies, you may need to serve 2 meals at a time, one for the allergic person and one for the rest of the family. That is the reality in our house. But that doesn’t mean I spend all my time in the kitchen. There are actually 3 diet plans in our house: The long list of prohibited foods for Manny, gluten-free for me, and anything goes for my husband and daughter. Usually that means I eat one diet or the other. Rarely I’ve been known to cook 3 different cereals (say, amaranth for Manny, oats for me, 5-grain cereal for the other two), but I usually only cook two things. Today we had grilled veggies & tofu. Manny couldn’t have them, so my husband fixed him something else. He and our daughter ate the veggies with bread, but I just left off the bread and ate the veggies and tofu.

However, sometimes I cook things in bulk for Manny. Pancakes, waffles, biscuits, squash, beans, etc, can all be cooked in bulk and frozen. Then when I don’t have time to cook a regular meal, I can pull something out of the freezer.

When we have beans, sometimes I take out some of the beans before we season them (he can’t have the tomato sauce we add to our beans) and season them separately for him. When I made millet pudding for the family, I made some with nut milk for us and a small batch with hemp milk for him–but I baked them at the same time. He can have many of the veggies that we have, so I make them available for him with whatever his main course is. We also have an allergy-free cold cereal available, and some crackers and rice cakes, so that when we are in a rush, there is something we can feed him for supper (at our house, lunch is like most people’s dinner, and supper is a light meal). When we have pasta, we cook rice pasta for him and put olive oil, yeast flakes, dry basil, granulated garlic, and salt on it, while the rest of the family has a sauce of some kind (cashew cheese, spaghetti sauce, pesto, etc). He can usually have some salad, if I leave the tomatoes and carrots out.

So if the list is long, you may need to fix two separate meals, but often you can prepare two similar dishes at the same time. Making two lasagnas takes only a tiny bit more effort than making one–and no extra baking time if they are baked together. Having extra meals frozen and ready to eat can be very helpful, so when you cook, cook in bulk.

If the person only is allergic to one or two things, the severity of the allergy and the rest of the family’s love of the item(s) will make it easy to determine whether to cut it out of the family diet or not. But when the list is extensive, as in my son’s case, you may need to change your attitude toward cooking, spend a little time now and then in the kitchen, cook some things in bulk, etc. It is, however, totally doable. And the rewards–less itching, growing better, better attitude, etc–will definitely be worth the effort.

Should You Wean Your Baby who Has Multiple Food Allergies?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Ever since my first child was born, I have been a big advocate of breastfeeding. I figured I would nurse as long as there was an interest. This was heavily influenced by a friend who was still nursing her two-year-old. I weaned my daughter at 19 months because my second pregnancy had made it too painful–and she was only nursing once a day by then anyhow.

I planned on nursing my son at least that long. But I began to have second thoughts about nursing as I watched him break our in a rash as he drank. It got worse as he got older. We tried giving him goat’s milk formula, and even experimented with homemade sunflower seed milk (that experiment landed us in the emergency room, though we didn’t make the connection between the reaction and the seeds until later, especially since he threw up just outside the hospital and had no symptoms once we got in the door). Soy wasn’t an option–we knew e was allergic to it. I didn’t know about hemp back then. It is a complete protein and has lots of good fat in it, but hemp milk is very expensive. I pay $34 per dozen for it from Azure Standard now, but imagine how much milk a 6-month-old can drink… I would use a case in a week or less. There are amino acid based formulas available, such as Neonate, but by the time we found out about them, he simply would not eat them. Period. And I don’t blame him; they taste awful. Plus I think there was at least one ingredient in them he couldn’t have; I don’t remember now.

Once we were convinced that there was a relationship between what I ate and his eczema, I tried eliminating various foods from my diet to clear it up. This works in some cases. My brother was allergic to wheat as a baby and would break out in a rash anytime mother ate wheat. Once she made the connection, she quit eating it and he quit breaking out. But then, she quit nursing and switched to goat’s milk at 6 weeks due to supply issues, though his allergy to wheat, as well as some other things, continued for years. He was never as bad off as my son, however, and has pretty much outgrown all the allergies.

So I tried eliminating the four worst offenders, wheat, soy, eggs, and milk, one at a time. When I saw no change after two weeks each, I added them back in. Later after some strange skin electroacu-something allergy test, I tried eliminating the 6 or 7 foods it showed as reactive. No change. Later he had an IgG food sensitivity test done, and I eliminated and rotated as best as I could based on the results. Still no change (thanks in part to several false negatives on that test–one of which was the infamous sunflower seeds; which reminds me, if you can eat them and can’t have dairy, they make a delicious sour cream–I found this recipe during this time). I remember hunting the kitchen in desperation one day, trying to find something to cure my nursing-induced hunger. But I couldn’t find anything that didn’t require preparation, so I ran to the local health food store to buy rice crackers and such.

It was a very hard time. I had to bring my own food to potlucks. I remember mixing quinoa, fresh and frozen veggies, and olive oil, because I didn’t know what else to fix, and eating that while I looked with envy at all the delicious entrees and mouthwatering desserts everyone around me was eating.

So I began to consider weaning. Manny had not been interested in solid food at 6 months. My husband thought I was neglecting him, but my research told me that as long as he was still gaining weight and nursing well, I shouldn’t worry about it. He finally did start eating around 10 months. I decided to wean him at 12 months. My plan was to feed him beans and cereal to give him a complete protein, with flax or olive oil mixed in for fat, and whatever veggie or fruit I could get down him. So at 12 months I began to wean him, finishing the process in less than two weeks.

When I declared my intention to wean online, I could not believe the amount of flack I got for my decision. “Breastmilk is best for your baby, even if he has allergies,” some insisted. Others told me of how they had persevered with their baby’s special diet until they were two or even later, as if they were trying to make me feel guilty for wanting to wean so I could go back to eating normal, tasty food. I mean, try eating pinto beans without onion or tomato. My husband would not eat half of what I was forced to eat during that time. I didn’t know enough about gluten-free baking to give up gluten. If I had known what I know now, I might have tried, but it wouldn’t have helped, because there were other foods that he was highly allergic to that I was still eating.

All I knew was that it was hard to identify trigger foods with the delay between my eating them and them turning into breastmilk and entering my baby’s digestive system. I knew it would be easier to do an elimination diet with him than with me, and that reactions would show up faster. So I ignored the naysayers and just weaned him.

In hindsight, I know now it was the best thing I ever did. I was still eating so many things that we didn’t know he was allergic to (remember the sunflower seed sour cream? That was one of the things; we didn’t figure out that one until later). Plus I comforted myself with the thought that I had nursed him a good 12 months; many babies are lucky to get 6 months or even less. He was able to go straight to solids with rice milk and hemp milk for liquids, without the need to add in a formula. We did eventually find a good hypoallergenic multivitamin in capsule form that we could dump into his milk to help make up for gaps in nutrients (Children’s Basic Nutrients). It was much less stressful for me to cook him a batch of beans, blend, and freeze them to use a few cubes at a time (I froze them in ice cube trays), and cook cream of some gluten free grain, such as quinoa or rice or millet daily, than it was for me to try to find something I could eat that was palatable. We made more rapid progress in figuring out the trigger foods this way. And he thrived.

So what should you do? I can’t tell you. Each case is different. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you make an informed decision:

  • How old is the baby?
  • How well is your baby eating solids?
  • How long is the list if food allergies?
  • Have you identified all the food allergies?
  • Can you survive on your baby’s special diet?
  • How is your milk supply?
  • Is the restricted diet affecting your milk supply?
  • What is your budget for special formula, and is your baby young enough to accept said formula?
  • Can your baby handle alternative milks, such as goat or almond, that could be doctored into a homemade formula?

Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

The longer you nurse, the better. Of course, whether you work or not, and how good your milk supply is, are factors to consider. And how well the baby is eating. Your baby should have breastmilk and/or formula until at least 12 months, though you can start adding in safe foods whenever he is ready. I would recommend waiting until at least 6 months, and then holding off on the grains for a few months more, since grains are harder to digest.

If your child has just one or two or a few allergies, such as gluten and milk, then don’t eat those and nurse as long as you can. Websites such as Gluten-free Goddess have tons of delicious recipes, and I can testify that the Delicious Gluten-free Bread really is delicious!

But if you are dealing with a long list, and getting enough calories to keep up milk production is becoming an issue, because the food is so boring it makes you lose your appetite, then perhaps you should consider weaning. If your baby can handle a homemade formula with a milk ternative, or you can afford the expensive amino-acid based formulas, or if you can get your insurance to help pay for them, and if you start early enough that your baby will accept them, then don’t feel guilty for switching to a bottle. Figure out what is right for you after careful research and prayer, if you believe in praying. And once you know what decision you are going to make, ignore the naysayers and guilt-trippers. Be a duck–let their criticism slide off without affecting you. Because you are the mother, and ultimately you know what is best for your baby. Period.

Have you weaned a baby with food allergies? When did you and why? If you haven’t weaned yet, feel free to share your circumstances for feedback; I promise I will give opinions and not criticize your decisions, nor will I allow other commenters to do so. Please share!

Too Many Allergies! Update on Manny

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Okay, it’s been a while since I shared about Manny and how it’s going working with his eczema. We went to the doctor today, and I decided it was time to record some things.

First, his eczema is pretty much under control, but he still gets itchy. And he keeps breaking out around his mouth–and if we don’t put something on it for a few days (which is hard, because he hates me putting anything on his face), it gets dry and cracked and peels and bleeds and, well, yeah, not good.

We have tried various and sundry supplements. We have taken him off of beans for the most part, added chicken once a week, and try to get down hemp protein and chia seeds whenever possible. And quinoa and amaranth are complete proteins (meaning they contain all the essential amino acids), and he likes them more or less.

At the last visit, I asked if we could do a test of several foods that were not on the normal IgE test. So we made a list of about a dozen foods–things like spinach, cucumber, apples, carrots, etc. I was floored by the results. Every single one of them was either moderate, high, or very high. As the doctor put it, at the moderate level, doctors prescribe epi pens just to be safe. At the higher levels, there is risk for anaphylactic shock. Granted, my son has never had that. The worst reaction he has ever had could best be described as a mild case of asthma, with wheezing and excess mucus. It usually only lasts 10-15 minutes. Also, the quantity of food determines the severity of his reaction. He doesn’t appear to react at all to minuscule amounts of allergens–for instance, I make nut milk in the same blender that I make his rice milk, and there is no way I can thoroughly clean the blade. So I couldn’t give his rice milk to someone who got anaphylaxis from, say, almonds, because they would probably end up in the hospital. On the other hand, if I gave him a teaspoon of almond milk, he would probably have some kind of immediate reaction–exactly what would be hard to say, since he’s never had any.

One reason we have been going to a naturopath is that we like taking a natural approach first and foremost. But we are running out of options. Today he started talking about what antihistamines we had tried, and had we ever tried oral steroids.

Now, many people trying the natural approach would shy away from steroids of any kind, especially oral ones. But I didn’t bat an eye. You see, I had an experience once when my left eyelid became inflamed, and there was no apparent cause. The doctor was puzzled; she had never seen anything like it. She tried a mild steroid for about 5 days, and it improved, but as soon as I ran out, it came back. She tried Prednisone for about 7 or 8 days, but it had the same reaction. I ran out near the weekend, and by Saturday I was very uncomfortable. My eyelid was almost swollen shut, and it was very irritated (thankfully they eye itself was never affected). As a Seventh-day Adventist, I attend church on Saturday, and do not believe in conducting business on that day. However, when one of the elder’s wives told me that I really shouldn’t wait for Monday, but should go to a doctor that very afternoon, I went. She told me of a Mexican doctor right on my way home, and even though I got there about 15 minutes after closing time, she was still there and took pity on me. She showed me a picture in one of her books of the very condition I had, gave me a longer dose of Prednisone and I think some cream, and it went away and never came back.

I do not believe that the Prednisone cured me. I believe it simply calmed the inflammation long enough for my body to deal with whatever was causing the problem and to heal itself. That is what the naturopath was thinking when he recommended the oral steroids. He said we would taper it, just like I did for my eyelid, and that the idea would be to simply give his digestive system a chance to calm down and heal a little. Because his allergies are just out of control. Honestly, the only things he has ever tested not allergic to are meat and chocolate. We haven’t tested any gluten-free grains, but all of them (except buckwheat, which is as bad as milk) seem to be okay. At least, we are trying to keep a little variety!

So I decided to try Zyrtec. We had already tried Benadryl (he reacted to it) and Claratin (no reaction, but no improvement, either), so that was our next OTC choice. I think there is one more option if we ever need it; after that, we would have to look at prescription antihistamines. We already tried one, but either it tasted so bad that it gagged him, or he reacted to it and threw it up. He was too young to ask, but whatever it was, I’m not trying it again! (I’m sure the doctor has a record of what prescriptions he gave back then, so I could ask for a different one if needed.)

We are also going to look into L-glutamine. I can’t remember if we ever tried it or not, and I can’t remember where I heard about it, but I know I’ve heard of it before. We’re going to see if it has any effect on him at all. I think the steroids would be the last resort.

At the suggestion of a couple of people, I decided to test pumpkin seeds on Manny. He had never had them before. I started with a simple skin test. I crushed one seed between two spoons and rubbed some of the crumbs between my fingers until they felt oily. Then I rubbed this into the back of his knee, in the soft skin where he has recently broken out (at the moment, it’s pretty clear). When no reaction showed after several minutes, I let him try a tiny bit of the crushed seed. [Please note: If your child has a history of anaphylaxis, you may want to try such a test under a doctor's supervision; my son has never had any form of anaphylaxis, and the severity of his reactions are directly proportional to the amount of allergen consumed. He does not appear highly sensitive to small amounts of contamination, or I would probably ask his doctor to do an allergy test before testing any food orally. I would strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor about doing such home tests on your child.]

When he still had no reaction–including no funny sensations in his mouth, such as he had with coconut and cashew–I gave him the rest of the crushed seed, followed by one whole seed. He really liked them, and didn’t seem to react at all. No congestion, no “allergy asthma” (this is the best description I have heard for one of the reactions he gets), no itchiness, nothing. So I posted on Facebook that I was “cautiously optimistic” about the seeds.

That night, however, he was restless. After being put to bed, he fell asleep quickly, but then would keep waking and calling for Mama or just groaning or fussing and rubbing his eyes and scratching his neck (which is somewhat irritated still). I had observed this behavior before, usually after consuming such small quantities of allergens that he had no reaction at the time of consumption. One example would be the night after he ate the gluten-free pasta at the Olive Garden. I found out later that it is made with corn, tomatoes, cheese, and a number of other known allergens. I wish they would just serve rice pasta! But I digress.

I had gone to the pharmacy earlier in the evening and purchased the generic Zyrtec antihistamine, and when my husband started complaining about how he wasn’t going to get any sleep that night (and I began to wonder if I would either), it occurred to me to give him a dose. So I did. He only whined once after that, and then slept peacefully the rest of the night. So apparently Zyrtec is the drug of choice for Manny. I like that it only has to be given once a day, unlike Benadryl. So if it causes drowsiness, I will just give the dose in the evening and put him to bed. He’s over any drowsiness he might have by morning, so it works out well.

So that’s where we are at. Still struggling with his diet–especially now that he is in the very picky/doesn’t like anything stage (normal for his age, but very trying, since his choices are already so limited). Top that off with him being hungry all the time (I think he might be growing), and, well, you can probably relate if you are reading this, because either your child has eczema too, or someone close to you does. So wish me luck, and if you have any ideas, please share them!

Two Allergy-Free Recipes and Links to More

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Eczema usually means allergies. Unless it’s contact dermatitis, which is simply a reaction to something that was touched, the allergies are usually to food. Food allergies mean diet restrictions.

Since my son was weaned at age 12 months, he has eaten beans and GF cereals every day. Until sometime around his 3rd birthday last month. He finally decided he was tired of beans and cereal. He became extremely picky, and it was very frustrating.

I finally realized that it was time for me to start cooking and baking, not just making a batch of cream of rice or whatever other grain in the morning and adding beans that I had precooked, blended, and frozen in ice cube trays. That worked when he was younger, but he is three years old now. He needs texture and variety. Not to mention that he is becoming more and more sensitive to beans. He tested in the medium range for black beans on the last IgE test. That means he should probably not eat beans every day.

But how to get protein? If he weren’t allergic to eggs, dairy, nuts, and most seeds, that wouldn’t be a problem. I would just give him an egg every day. Or some nuts. Or milk or cheese. But he can’t have any of that. Apart from quinoa and amaranth, most grains are missing certain essential amino acids (essential means the body cannot manufacture them, and therefore they must be consumed in the diet).

We have found a few solutions. First, the hemp milk he drinks daily is a complete protein (meaning it contains all the essential amino acids). He doesn’t get a lot of it–8-10 oz a day–but it’s something. Hemp protein can be used, but it has a strong flavor and is difficult to hide. I mean, I would drink it in a smoothie without a second thought, but he won’t. And I think it’s easier to make the horse led to water drink than to make a 3-year-old eat what he has decided he doesn’t like!

So although I am a 3rd generation vegetarian, and my husband has been almost exclusively vegetarian (with a few rare exceptions) for the past decade and a half, we decided to try giving Manny a little meat now and then. We tried turkey first. We wanted to get pre-cooked meat, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with raw meat in the home, but it turned out to be very expensive, not to mention that it actually had caramel color in it, which is probably not gluten free.

So then we tried chicken. Organic chicken. I went into Whole Foods and for once actually paid attention to the meat section. I settled on about 1/2 pound of ground chicken (they ground it for me). At $8 something a pound, it was a bit pricy, but it will last at least a month for the little guy! I mean, he only needs a couple of ounces per meal, right? It was wrapped in butcher paper, and went straight into the freezer when I got home.

I told my husband he would have to cook it, since he knows how to cook meat (hey, he knows how to butcher a chicken!) and I don’t. Besides, I have a mental block about touching the stuff. No moral objections (especially since it’s organic and was probably more humanely butchered than most meat is), but I just can’t bring myself to touch it. Ew!

So he dumped the ground chicken into a pot, added some garlic, cilantro, salt, and I don’t know what else, and cooked it to death. He wasn’t sure how long it needed to cook (being ground, obviously not very long), but he wanted to be sure any possible bacteria were dead.

Then he took shredded yuca (also known as cassava) that we had purchased at a Filippino market. (This picture isn’t the same brand as we get, but it is similar.) The root would cost almost $3 a pound at the grocery store, and then we’d have to peel and shred it and hope we got a good one. On the other hand, the frozen cassava came from a good root, and there’s no peeling or shredding to deal with. And best of all, we pay $1.25 for a 1 lb package! Considering the fact that cassava is high in calcium and also anti-inflammatory, and as gluten free as potatoes, it’s the perfect thing for someone on a restricted diet to include once in a while.

Once the chicken was done, my husband took some of the meat and mixed it with some cassava and a little extra salt (we froze the leftover chicken for future meals), formed patties with it, and pan fried it in a tiny bit of palm oil (more stable than olive, not refined like canola, and not an allergen to my son like coconut is). Health food stores sell Spectrum shortening, which is 100% unrefined palm oil. It works great in any recipe calling for shortening, has a very neutral flavor, and is very stable, so it’s great for baking and sauteing. Other seasonings could be added to this recipe, and even veggies (like shredded carrots). A gravy would be nice with it, too, but my son’s not ready for that yet.

The other recipe we have created in an attempt to get him to eat what he is not allergic to is Teff Pancakes. I created this recipe on my own, since I couldn’t find any recipes that I really liked online–or that were free of allergens. Because my son has more allergies than most kids–he’s the worst case his pediatrician has ever seen.

So here’s the recipe for Teff Pancakes as it stands now:

1 cup teff flour (I use the dark teff, but ivory teff would probably work too)
1/3 cup tapioca flour (did you know tapioca and cassava are the same thing?)
1 heaping Tbsp. sugar or xylitol
1 Tbsp. hemp or other protein (optional)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. xanthum gum or 1 tbsp flax seeds (the xanthum gum works better)
cinnamon to taste (I give it 2 or 3 dashes)
scant 1 1/2 cups of water (I use exactly 11 oz measured in a liquid measuring cup)
2 Tbsp. oil (I use unrefined grapeseed)

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the wet.  You will probably need a wire whisk to get the lumps out. Allow to sit a few minutes while a skillet heats over medium or slightly lower. Make pancakes, turning them when most of the color has changed.

I personally make little tiny pancakes about 2″ across, using what we always called a big spoon (the one you eat with when you are bigger–not a soup spoon, just a big table spoon). This recipe makes about 30 pancakes that size. You could make bigger ones, of course. I don’t grease the skillet, either. There is enough oil in the batter to keep them from sticking.

Besides these two recipes, I have found several simple, gluten-free recipes around the Internet, from biscuits to millet tortillas, as well as a couple of decadent desserts. But rather than repeat them here, I’ll just refer you to my mom blog, Life of a Happy Mom, where I already posted those recipes and my comments on them.

Have you found a good gluten-free recipe that is toddler friendly? Please share it! Gluten-free cooking can be daunting, but with some good recipes that kids will eat, it really isn’t so hard. And if we all share with each other, it will make the burden just a little bit easier to bear.

I’m Allergic to … What Can I Eat?

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Several months ago I received a question from one of my readers. She was undergoing skin allergy tests to find out what she was allergic to and had already come up with several things. I wrote her a rather lengthy response, and then asked if I could share it with my readers here. If you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with one or more food allergies, you may find this post helpful.

Question:

 I came acrossed your blog about being allergic to wheat and I was just skin tested she said i was allergic to wheat, oranges, tomatoes, pork, peanuts, and im not even done testing, i dont know what to eat can you give me some ideas, i am talking about food from the stores like regular food not food i have to buy online or anything. im kinda broke lol

Answer:

You asked me to help you with food allergies and what to eat. Before I do that, I want to share my “qualifications”. My brother had multiple food allergies as a child. Gluten, citrus, nightshade, and a few others I can’t remember. He outgrew them by puberty. I learned to read labels before age 10. My son has even more allergies and sensitivities, and until I weaned him at 12 months, I tried to eat his diet. I later learned that I was still eating things that he was highly reactive to, and that helped me deal with all the guilt I had over weaning him early (I nursed his sister for 20 months and only weaned her because it got painful in pregnancy).
So what can you do? First of all, you need to totally change your attitude toward food. You need to think differently about food. If you try to find a substitute for every item you are used to eating, you will either go crazy or have to triple your food budget.
Let’s take that apart. Suppose you like to eat a chili hot dog. With the wheat bun, the pork in the dog, the tomatoes in the chili, and the cheese on top, it’s going to be really hard to make a substitute for it. So just forget it. Find totally new foods that you can enjoy. It will probably mean taking your food with you when you eat out with friends. You never know what is in prepared foods unless you have a label to read.
Since you are not finished testing, it is going to be hard to give you a lot of advice. If you tested negative on soy, embrace tofu and other soy-based foods. If you haven’t been tested for it yet, then hold off, because that is one of the worst allergens.
Think of foods that you may eat once in a while that are not on the forbidden list. In fact, you would do well to make a list of all the individual foods you can eat. You will probably find that the list of can-eat will be bigger than the list of can’t-eat. The only problem is that several of the can’t-eats are in 90% of prepackaged foods. So you are going to have to embrace cooking from scratch.
Look at that can-eat list. If corn is on it, embrace corn tortillas and tortilla chips. Try blue chips for variety. Potatoes are related to tomatoes, so you should probably cut them out for a month or two until whatever symptoms you have been having subside and then try them to see if you can eat them. But sweet potatoes and yams are not related to potatoes, and you should be able to tolerate them well. Think sweet potato fries! Mmmmmmm! Look at the wealth of veggies available and just forget about tomatoes (and potatoes, peppers and eggplant–they are all nightshade). But broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, zucchini, carrots, and many other veggies are fair game. Embrace legumes–except soy, if it’s a problem. Try sprouting some of them and create nutritious dishes with them.
You can find websites that let you select ingredients and prohibit them from the recipe, and then do searches based on the parameters you specified. This will give you some ideas of things you can do. Even just googling ingredients with a minus sign next to things you want to avoid can provide recipes.
Basically, you will need to just embrace your options and let the rest go. It will be hard at first, but when you get the results of feeling better, it will be worth it.
And if you don’t get better, there could be some other issue causing the allergies. In my son’s case, he has pathogenic bacteria in his gut that is causing irritation that manifests itself on the skin as eczema. The more we do for his gut, the better he gets. His IgE score has come down from about 2875 to somewhere around 2500-2600. That doesn’t seem like much, but considering that 300 is considered the maximum of normal, that is wonderful!
So there you go. Let me know if you have anymore questions.
Whether you are dealing with just one allergen, like soy, or multiple food allergies, like this reader and my son, the principles are the same. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer to the best of my ability. I should also mention that if you have multiple food allergies, it might be wise to seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist to be sure you are getting a good balance of nutrients with the remaining foods. It would also be advisable to take a good supplement.

My Baby Has Eczema: New House, New Doctor, New Plan

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Last week I shared about how my life spiraled out of control as I watched my baby get worse and worse, with no end in sight. My emotions were out of control, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

New Home

I had been resisting going to a regular doctor (MD) out of fear. My husband worked for Child Protective Services, and he told me that a doctor had turned a mother in to CPS for not following the treatment he had outlined for her child. I didn’t want to have a doctor prescribe steroids for my son and then turn me in to CPS if I didn’t use them! But I was getting to the point that I couldn’t handle things the way they were. My son was miserable nearly all the time. If I put him down to practice crawling, he would put his face down on the carpet and rub back and forth. I knew I had to do something. Besides, the naturopath he had been going to had pretty much exhausted her knowledge of the subject.

My husband and I realized that we needed to have him home more. He worked an hour away, and the 2-hour round-trip commute was killing him, especially on top of all the stress we were dealing with. So he started looking for a place to rent near his work, and I decided it was time to start using the hydrocortisone more than just a tiny bit on the worst areas, as I had been.

New Doctor

I also decided it was time to find another doctor. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew of a place where I could ask for recommendations. So I logged into Mamapedia.com and asked the moms in my area for a recommendation. I specified that I wanted a doctor that would look favorably on alternative options and that would not be bothered by the fact that I had chosen to delay vaccinations.

I only received one reply, but it was a recommendation for a doctor that was only 3 or 4 miles away from my husband’s work–and even closer to the house we were going to rent! Integrative Pediatrics with Dr. Paul Thomas was her suggestion, and I eagerly checked out the website. When I read that “it is the goal of Integrative Pediatrics to bring the best of complementary, alternative and holistic medicine,” I was sold. I called and made an appointment for as soon as I could–which happened to be several days before the actual move.

The doctor was very understanding of our choice not to vaccinate yet, and even supportive of it as he learned more about Manny’s situation. I have found many swollen lymph glands on him–in the back of his neck, in his groin, and maybe some other places. For all we know, they are probably all swollen. This indicates an immune system response, and is likely a side effect of the allergies he has. His doctor believes that adding vaccinations to the picture is just not a good idea at this point.

Allergy Tests

While he encouraged me to continue using the hydrocortisone as needed to relieve the symptoms, and even suggested Benadryl (which actually made him break out more, so we stopped that), his main line of attack was with natural things. He did an IgG food sensitivity test and later an IgE food and environmental allergy test. The results told him that Manny has some kind of internal irritation that is causing the external manifestation of eczema; he is more or less sensitive to almost every food they tested on the IgG test, with a few exceptions (mostly meat, which we don’t eat, and random things like bananas and beets). He also had an IgE count of almost 3,000–the highest the pediatrician had ever seen–and was allergic to almost every food they tested, except chocolate and yeast and meat.

When we got the results of the IgG test back (the IgE test didn’t come until months later), I modified my diet to match up, hoping that his eczema would subside, even if only a little. It didn’t. Only the hydrocortisone helped anything. I began to dream of weaning him so that we could feed him an even more limited diet than I could manage to do myself, and maybe we could eliminate all the bad foods and he would clear up. So just before he turned 12 months I started the process of weaning him, cutting out one feeding per week, until by 2 weeks after his first birthday he was totally weaned. But his eczema didn’t clear up. Then I felt bad about weaning him, but I just couldn’t stay on his diet anymore. I ignored the criticism from those who said I should have nursed longer, knowing that I was doing the best I could. I had nursed my daughter for 20 months and wanted to nurse my son until 2 years at least, but I could not imagine another 12 months of eating such a bland, limited diet. In the end, I’m glad I did, because not long after weaning him we figured out that he was allergic to some of the things I had been using in my diet to replace things we already knew he was allergic to (for instance, he is highly allergic to sunflower seeds, which I was using to make a “sour cream” to replace the dairy version), and when we eliminated those foods, he stopped breaking out during meals like he had so many times when I was nursing him.

But back to the doctor. I was very pleased when he didn’t push steroids right off the bat; instead he suggested a regimen of probiotics, vitamin D, Omega 3 oils, digestive enzymes, and multivitamins. Over the months we found sources for all of these things in forms that he could handle (for instance, try finding multivitamins for children that don’t have some food substance in them took us quite a while). He also encouraged us to rotate his diet so that he didn’t eat the same foods every day, as a means of preventing new sensitivities from forming.

We Try Steroid Cream

Of course, by using the hydrocortisone .5% and sometimes the 1%, we were able to clear up the worst of the skin issues. His little cheeks no longer oozed, and the yeast infection in the folds of skin on his neck cleared up, since it was no longer raw and oozing there. Patches of good skin began to reappear around the areas of inflamed skin, and gradually the symptoms began to subside, little by little.

However, it never really cleared up. At his 18-month check-up (or maybe it was a 2 or 3 months later, I don’t remember) when the doctor asked if I would like to try something a little stronger to help control the symptoms, I agreed. He prescribed Triamcinalon, a medium-level steroid cream, and said to use it once a day or less, as needed, but not on the face or genitals.

I felt a little guilty about using this steroid, but at the same time, I realized that he was a much happier little boy. And besides, the steroid was not our main plan of attack. It was just something to keep the eczema at bay while we continued searching for the cause.

I remember there was a patch on my son’s wrist that had been encroaching on the back of his hand. The hydrocortisone had calmed it, but it simply would not go away. Manny’s father is Hispanic, so his natural skin color is a pale olive complexion. However, the eczema had bleached it as white as a readhead’s skin.  Wherever a patch of eczema would clear up, the skin would slowly get its natural color back. However, this patch would not clear up. Until I started putting the Triamcinalon on it. When I did, it cleared up and hasn’t come back! So now I don’t need to use it there anymore. That taught me that sometimes when the eczema gets too far, it really does need something to get it back under control. I can control pretty much anything on his arms with hydrocortisone and am using less of the Triamcinalon now that I did when I first started.

Of course, not every patch of eczema was that easy to clear up. But gradually his overall natural color began to show up, and some places would be almost cleared up at times. I finally got to where I was using the Triamcinalon only every other day, using just hyrocortisone on the odd days.

But I wasn’t able to cut it out entirely.

Allergist’s Opinion

Shortly after starting the Triamcinalon, at the suggestion of his doctor, we visited an allergist. That, for us, was a waste of time and money. I know many people have been helped by an allergist, but for us, by the time we went, we had already figured out almost everything he was truly allergic to, and the allergist wasn’t willing to subject such a young child to allergy testing, since he, as he put it, “he will probably outgrow most of them anyway.” Since being weaned at 12 months, he had been on a strict, fairly hypoallergenic diet, and we had also been on a fairly good moisturizing plan, so the allergist’s conclusion was that we were doing everything right and hopefully he would outgrow his allergies. And now we have a bill that we are hoping we can pay with our tax refund.

By this time, we had bought a house an hour away from my husband’s work–again. It was the only one we could afford that met most of our needs. We  decided to keep his pediatrician–especially when the allergist said he was one of the best pediatricians in the Portland area–but he was a pediatrician, not a skin disease specialist, and he was running out of ideas now too. He was convinced that the cause of Manny’s eczema was somehow tied to irritation in the gut, but he didn’t have the time or resources to really dig into that. So he suggested that we try going to a naturopath that specialized in gastrointestinal issues. So we made an appointment with the naturopath after our second visit to the allergist.

Next week I will tell you about the visits to the naturopath, what we tried, and what the results have been. That post will bring this story up to the the present day. This story is far from finished. But now you have an overview of my son’s life.

So in the mean time, please share with us about your experience with doctors and steroids–or your avoidance of either. Also, if you have something that worked for you, feel free to share it in the comments. If you want to share something with me but you don’t want to name it in the comments, please use the contact page to contact me directly. Thank you for reading and consider subscribing so you won’t miss the rest of the story!

This post is mentioned on Blogelina’s Blogging Buddy Blog Hop.

My Baby Has Eczema: Diet Disaster

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Last week I related the experience of how my son came down with eczema as a tiny baby. Trying to find the cause of it was an exercise in futility. My brother was born allergic to wheat and as a child suffered from many allergies, which he eventually outgrew sometime around puberty. So I was familiar with food allergies and had some ideas about how to deal with them. My basic understanding was this: Find the reactive foods, eliminate them, problem solved.

But it wasn’t that easy. I already mentioned last week how I tried cutting out one food at a time to test to see if that was it. This works if there are only one or two allergens–which usually is the case for most people–but it didn’t work for me. There was absolutely no change no matter what I was avoiding.

Some people speculated that maybe his eczema was not food related. But I knew otherwise. Sometimes when I was nursing him, I could practically watch him react. It was as though my milk were poison to him. Sometimes my husband would notice the reaction, and say, “He’s breaking out again.”. I began to dread him saying that. What could I do about it that I wasn’t already doing? I mean, he had to eat!

What About Formula?

We thought of trying some kind of formula, but the doctor did her best to discourage me from switching. After all, even though he was allergic to something in my milk, he was still getting the best nutrition possible. And for all we knew, he might be allergic to something in the formula. I learned later that there are hypoallergenic formulas out there, and we even got one when he was about 9 or 10 months old, but even that had corn syrup solids in it, and he has since proved to be very reactive to corn, so even if he had been willing to take a bottle, I’m not sure how well it would have worked.

My husband was convinced that if Manny could just get off my breastmilk and onto something he could handle, he would clear up. (I know now that this was not true, but we were still operating under the “some food is causing this allergy; eliminate the food(s) and the eczema will go away” assumption. We didn’t realize that allergies were only part of the equation in his case, and not necessarily the greater part.) After some research we decided to try goat’s milk formula. My mom’s milk supply ran low when I was about 3 months old, and she supplemented with goat’s milk. My very allergic brother thrived on it as well. So I figured it was worth a try

Now if you try to find goat’s milk formula, you won’t find it–at least, not in the States. You have to buy the ingredients and make it yourself. I found a source for fresh goat’s milk, got my hands on a good formula recipe, and made up a batch.

I don’t want to remember the day we tried to get him to drink it. He was about 6 months old by then and was firmly established with breastfeeding. He didn’t even want to take breastmilk from a bottle! My husband sat for hours while Manny cried for milk the way he was used to getting it and resisted the bottle with all the firmness a six-month-old can muster. I can’t tell you how hard it was to watch. I knew I had what he wanted–more and more as the hours passed–and it was killing me to listen to him cry. But Daddy was determined to try.

Finally he drank some. Then he vomited. Then he had a bad reaction on his skin. And he refused to drink more. I begged my husband to “Just let me feed my baby!” and he finally relented.

We never tried that again.

The Home Skin Test

We had much to learn, but eventually we figured out that certain foods would cause a hives-like reaction on his skin, and this was an indication that he was almost without question truly allergic to those foods. (Note: There is a difference between true allergies and sensitivities; one should avoid true allergens and limit contact with things they are merely sensitive to. This will be discussed more in depth later.) We have used this simple home skin test–rubbing an area of his skin with the food we are testing–with some success to test things  without actually giving them to him orally. Once we figured this out, we suddenly understood why he reacted the way he did to the goat’s milk: he is highly allergic to all forms of dairy, including goat’s milk. By trial and error we discovered that he is also without doubt truly allergic to wheat, all nuts, most seeds, kiwi, cranberry, and maybe one or two other things. But that wasn’t until months later, and I still had some of those in my diet when we finally weaned him.

Diet Restrictions Toughen

In an attempt to put our finger on what was causing the eczema and eliminate it, I began to cut more and more out of my diet. I was hoping that if I could just figure out all the things he was allergic to, he would stop breaking out. Meal preparation became a burden, because my husband and daughter didn’t join me in the restricted diet–meaning I had to cook two different meals. I would try to have at least one dish in common, and find a substitute for what I couldn’t have. Friends became concerned that I wasn’t getting enough nutrition to make good milk. I wasn’t so worried about that–as long as I was producing, I knew from the research that I had done that the milk itself would be fine–but it certainly did drain me. It was also very frustrating. I remember being hungry for a snack one evening, and I couldn’t find any snack foods that I could eat in the house. I was so desperate that I grabbed my purse and headed over to the local health food store (less than a mile away) and stocked up on rice crackers and other expensive snack items. Then I tried to make them last, because I didn’t have a lot of money in the food budget for things like that!

More than anything else, the restrictions that I was putting in my diet were all the more frustrating because of the lack of improvement. It didn’t matter what I tried; he just wasn’t getting better. The strain began to manifest itself in emotional issues. I came very near to a serious breakdown. I will share about that next week.

Have you ever dealt with eczema in a loved one–or yourself? Can you enter into the frustration that we were experiencing–trying to figure out the allergen(s) and not being able to pinpoint all of them? Please share with us  in the comments. If you have a blog about it, be sure to include a link. And consider subscribing so you won’t miss next week’s post, where I will delve into the emotional pain I experienced–and how I almost didn’t survive intact.