How food allergy may lead to childhood anxiety
September 19th, 2017
Filed under: Anxiety disorder, Mental Health by Rachael

“The immune system evolved to protect us from things that are not ourselves, like viruses or pathogens, yet we consume nutrients, which are themselves foreign,” said Charles Surh, adjunct professor, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the Division of Developmental Immunology, as he conducted a study on food allergies some time ago.

Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including a large proportion of children, due to genetic, biological or other external reasons. The symptoms of food allergy generally range from skin rash to anaphylactic shock. The mild to severe reactions due to food allergy can have severe implications on the digestive system and mental health of children. Though many succeed in alleviating their allergies, some children face a range of psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), etc.

There are several reasons behind the increased risk of food allergy among children. Firstly, their digestive system is still not as well developed as adults. Secondly, children have limited exposure to distinct types of food and are still experimenting with unusual tastes and types.

According to one of the studies, led by researcher Surh and published in the journal Science, the consumption of food stimulates cells in the gut to suppress the rejection of food by the immune system. This explains the prevalence of food allergy among children. Therefore, food tolerance is an acquired natural skill that involves development of T cells, which triggers a strong immune response to macromolecules contained in food.

Overwhelming effects of food allergy trigger anxiety

Undoubtedly, anxiety is part and parcel of life among growing children. As they go about figuring out their lives and the world, they are able to exercise over their anxiety. Usually, they can be comforted out of it or the phase passes by itself. However, when the level of anxiety grows out of proportion with the situation and the child cannot be comforted, then it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Some of the general symptoms of anxiety in children are excessive and uncontrollable worrying and fear, fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, sleep disruption, restlessness, muscle tension, etc.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), childhood anxiety occurs in about 25 percent of children between ages 13 and 18. This means that about one in four children suffers from this condition. If left untreated, anxiety in children can cause many difficulties at school and home, as well as among peers. There are also fears that this condition could persist even in their adulthood.

Considering the increased vulnerability of children to anxiety, other major factors like food allergy play a pivotal role in exacerbating the symptoms of anxiety. A possible explanation for food allergy contributing to childhood anxiety could be the constraints and pressure witnessed in managing a potentially life-threatening condition that becomes too overwhelming to be endured. Moreover, they also feel dejected to know that they are different from other children. It also depends on how food allergy is handled by the adults around them.

Financial and emotional strains inflicted by food allergy

The relationship between the food allergy and childhood anxiety was studied by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They selected a sample population of 80 pediatric patients aged four to 12 years from a primarily low socioeconomic background. Some of them had food allergy while others didn’t.

The study revealed that 57 percent of the children with a food allergy displayed the symptoms of anxiety compared to 48 percent children without any food allergy. Since the management of food allergies is an expensive affair and a task that demands extra effort, it puts enormous stress on children. The results also highlighted that food allergy triggered social anxiety and the fear of social rejection and humiliation. In order to find relevant interdependence between food allergy and mental health, the need of the hour is to conduct more number of empirical studies.

Reign problems to build future

Since children are the future of any nation, one of the effective ways to assist them in growing as a healthy adult is to ensure the implementation of effective interventions. By creating such measures at all levels of the society, such as school, community, family, etc., a number of problems can be effectively controlled.

If you suspect that your child is struggling with an anxiety disorder, contact the Anxiety Treatment Advisors of Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-891-2539 or chat online to connect with one of the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in Colorado.

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