We deal with a few food allergies and intolerances in our household. One of our kids has been gluten- and casein-free now for about five years; that means no wheat, barley, US-processed (and possibly cross-contaminated) oats, MSG, modified food starch, or dairy of any kind (casein is a milk protein). When he was younger, we had to avoid eggs, soy, and corn (and anything containing corn derivatives, like corn syrup) as well. Yeah, that was fun; thank goodness he grew out of some of those.
Another child is allergic to wheat and used to be allergic to cashews, green beans, and chicken. Yes, chicken. She outgrew that, too, but gets horrible, itchy eczema if she consumes wheat. A third is off gluten. The other two don't seem to be allergic to anything -- yet. None of them are anaphalactic to anything, thank goodness, but being GFCF can make eating out and packing lunches a bit of a challenge.
My youngest kids' preschool and daycare are nut-free zones (which, compared to avoiding gluten, is a cinch). But I read with interest the studies that came out earlier this week, about a possible therapy that seems to be helping kids overcome their peanut allergies by giving them daily, controlled doses of the very thing to which they're allergic.
"But over several years, the children's bodies learned to tolerate peanuts. Immune-system tests show no sign of remaining allergy in five youngsters, and others can withstand amounts that once would have left them wheezing or worse," the Associated Press reported.
Which led me to two thoughts: 1.) Are scientists taking a page out of homeopathy's handbook? And 2.) If very small -- practically microscopic -- encounters with allergens can eventually "teach" one's immune system to tolerate, rather than reject, certain substances, are our peanut-free classrooms causing problems rather than preventing them?
Please note: I am not suggesting that kids aren't really allergic to nuts, or anything else for that matter. My friend's child's face blows up like a balloon if he so much as rubs his eyes after touching someone else who's handled nuts -- food allergies are very real (though, thanks to an over-reliance on simple blood tests, misdiagnoses also seem to be on the rise). But as I scan product labels for the umpteenth time, looking for hints of gluten, I wonder... since our kids don't have celiac disease and their allergies aren't life threatening, is avoiding every last trace of gluten just making things worse for them in the long run?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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