Allergies are an issue that many of us are familiar with; with over 40 million people experiencing some type of allergic reaction to different substances every day, it’s helpful to determine what forms of allergies are out there, and the connection between the responses that our bodies have to what has possibly happened early on in life to precipitate those allergies. Allergic reactions can happen at any time and to anyone; some of the possible allergens that we’re exposed to today include: latex, dust, pet dander, food, bug bites, drugs, grass, and mold, just to name a few. (1)
So, what exactly initiates an allergic reaction? Allergies occur when the allergen substance – whatever that may be – comes in contact with antibodies on cells in the body. These cells begin to excrete a chemical called histamine, which then causes the symptoms and reactions that we get to these allergens. (3) Some of these symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, itchy skin, redness, rashes, and tingling, depending on the type of allergic substance. More severe symptoms include anaphylaxis, chest tightness, and swelling in the mouth. (3)
Allergies can begin at any stage of life, and they’ve increased in occurrence within the last 30-40 years; one study even found that allergies to different types of foods have increased 18% in a period of 10 years. (4) Dermatitis and asthma are two more allergies that have seen a rise in incidence as well – so the question is, are we doing something within our lifestyles to initiate these allergies? (2)
A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association has found a correlation between medicines that block acid, and the occurrence of allergic reactions; another study also found the same connection, citing that there is a relationship between antibiotic use and the prevalence of food allergies later in life. Due to both of these studies – and many other studies that are out there today – that are finding a common theme with early life medications and allergies, it’s vital that we realize the long-term effects of these treatments on health into the future. (2) (5)
As babies, our bodies are constantly changing and developing. Because of this important period of growth, there needs to be a certain level of exposure to substances that cause a reaction with our immune systems – this in turn helps to create a healthy immune system. Studies today have theorized that the bacteria and organisms that are present in our digestive tract during childhood are playing vital roles in the sensitivity level against foods, which then can possibly associate with any allergic reactions later on in life. (5)
Since food is digested throughout the whole digestive system – including in the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and large and small intestines – having the cells in these areas be desensitized by acid blockers or antibiotics in the midst of their growth can cause food particles and the cells within them to not be digested correctly. (4) Medicines like acid blockers (such as histamine-2 receptor antagonists or PPI’s) work by suppressing the acid that is produced in the stomach, which in turn has been shown to actually limit how many of the proteins in the foods that are eaten are binding to antibodies. When the food proteins can’t bind to those antibodies, that is where we see the start of food sensitivities and allergies. Doctors are taught (mostly by pharmaceutical reps and scientists sponsored by corporate research) that it is acceptable to automatically treat the cold with antibiotics or colic with acid blocking medications. (4)
Another similar study found the same results, except this time they were interested in how antibiotics changed the gut health in children – and in turn, how it affected them into the future. Antibiotics (such as penicillin or amoxicillin) that treat diseases like colds and upper respiratory infections are most commonly given to younger children, and also have an impact on the antibodies in the digestive tract that lead to food sensitivities (did you know the national average for prescribed antibiotics for a 1 year old American child is two rounds of antibiotics?). In most cases, the study showed that the more antibiotics that were administered, the more likely it was to have a corresponding allergy to food. (5) Building up the antibodies in the digestive tract is important in developing a tolerance to the proteins in food, and interrupting the normal production and process of the gut can lead to these allergic diseases. This is why functional medicine and my practice in Boulder have been so heavily vested in gut health and the consequences of both healthy, and unhealthy function in this critical organ! (5)
Within the allergic reactions that arose from these studies, one of the most prevalent reactions was to food, specifically peanuts. Other foods that caused a reaction included dairy products (milk from cows), eggs, and seafood. Issues such as dermatitis and asthma also developed in some children as well, as a result of having acid blockers and/or antibiotics at such a young age. (2) What’s interesting about these food allergies is that the chances of development vary; depending on how long the medicine is prescribed for. That being said, infants that took meds for more than 2 months in a row were at a 50% higher risk of food allergies than infants who took meds for less time. Maybe we need to start questioning our doctor’s decisions and ask why they need to be on consecutive medications for conditions that were never treated as such 30 years ago? (2)
In studies from both the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the children tested were less than 12 months of age; this implies that the relationship between the use of acid blockers and antibiotics on infants is quite significant. (2)(5)
Being aware of the possible side effects (and long-term effects in regards to allergies) of acid blockers and antibiotics on children is vital; both parents and health care providers should be knowledgeable about the health and wellness effects of these prescriptions, and how it will impact the future gut health of children.
If you feel frustrated about the path your child is on, we are to! We have raised 4 healthy children and barring one incident of antibiotic use because of a post delivery sepsis issue (thank you medicine!) we have never used anything except functional medicine and chiropractic. Ear infections are treated with essential oils and fresh pressed garlic and an upper cervical adjustment. Its not that our children don’t get infections, quite the contrary! We don’t try to hide them and avoid an exposure. We would rather expose them to infections like the cold so that their immune system can build into the robust, amazing creation that it can be. Unfortunately, corporate medicine utilizes fear and sews discord among our population rather than knowledge and education about an informed choice. So many of my autoimmune patients like Hashimoto’s hypothyroid, asthma, rheumatoid and Celiac disease were set up with systemic issues early from lack of exposure to antigens and then over-medication due to knee jerk medicine. But, you can still create tolerance! Functional medicine can help your gut and immune system stay focused on self regulation and tolerance. Through individualized medicine and important choices in diet, environment and supplementation you can tackle these challenging disorders and get back on the right track!
Where there is a will, there is a way and we are here to help guide you through that process.
Yours in health,
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP
Mitre, E., Susi, A., Kropp, L., Schwartz, D., Gorman, G., Nylund, C. (2018). Association Between Use of Acid-Suppressive Medications and Antibiotics During Infancy and Allergic Diseases in Early Childhood. Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, pp. E1-E8. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0315 (2)
Trikha, A., Baillargeon, J. G., Kuo, Y. F., Tan, A., Pierson, K., Sharma, G., Wilkinson, G., … Bonds, R. S. (2013). Development of food allergies in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease treated with gastric acid suppressive medications. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology: Official Publication of the European Society of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, 24(6), pp. 582-588. (4)
Love, B. L., Mann, J. R., Hardin, J. W., Lu, Z. K., Cox, C., and Amrol, D. J. (2016). Antibiotic prescription and food allergy in young children. Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology: Official Journal of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 12, 41. doi:10.1186/s13223-016-0148-7 (5)