Are food allergies and behaviors linked?

Categories: allergen-free

Could food allergies be the culprit behind your kid’s undesirable behavior? Is she acting aggressively, having trouble concentrating or talking non-stop? Sometimes these symptoms can be justified by age, stress or disorders such as autism. But have you considered the link between food allergies and behavior – and that the foods she’s eating could be making her worse?

Signs your kids may have food allergies

First, let’s clarify a couple of things as they are discussed in this post. Food allergy refers to a more noticeable physical reaction typically, such as sneezing. However, it’s important to note that less obvious food sensitivities can also affect behavior. For example, a food intolerance occurs in the digestive system, and a toxicity is like a temporary overdose of a food. Food intolerances or toxicities can cause symptoms easily dismissed as an upset stomach or nerves, for instance. In this post, I’m using the term food allergies to cover all levels of food sensitivities.

food allergies and behavior biting
Photo by Jep Gambardella

Second, aggressive behavior can include but is not limited to kicking, screaming, biting, pulling hair, excluding others, calling names, taunting or embarrassing someone in front of others.

Exploring food allergies

We can split symptoms of food allergies into two categories as I see it.

  • The obvious symptoms, such as a runny or stuff nose, itchiness, rashes, sneezing or in serious cases, anaphylactic shock. We typically stop eating the food.
  • Ambiguous symptoms such as slight congestion, digestive discomfort, difficulty concentrating, aggressive behavior or non-stop talking could also indicate a food allergy. But we often mistakenly blame these on the weather, nerves, personalities or medical issues, to name a few. Meanwhile we keep on eating the food.

Think about how you might get after not feeling well or being able to concentrate for a couple of weeks. I tend to get a little irritable and bitchy, frankly.

Your kid could be going through the same thing but without 1) realizing his behavior is different, 2) associating ambiguous symptoms with the foods he eats, 3) being able to communicate his discomfort especially if he’s very young and 4) being slowed down much from his normal busy activity. My son is still busy as ever even when he has a cold and is breathing like Darth Vader!

Food and behaviors that may surprise you

Here are just a few examples of food allergies and behaviors you might see yet not naturally link together:

  • amines > aggressive behavior
  • food dyes (red 1, yellow 5, etc. which can be listed by a slew of other names) >     attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, difficulty concentrating
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)  >  feelings of detachment, temper tantrums
  • pork  >  aggression
  • wheat > non-stop talking

For a more complete list, check out page 47 of my book, Digested – eating healthier made easier 3 ways.

Help identify food allergies and behaviors that are disrupting your kids

If your kid either suddenly shows a change in behavior, or constantly displays behavior that seems off beat compared to her normal, start reviewing her diet as of late. Do your best to pinpoint her symptoms and the culprit food(s). Remove that food from her diet for 3 weeks ideally, to see if the behavior disappears. In many cases, you may see improvement in even less time.

I recently heard about a family in which a young girl around age 3 was throwing major tantrums. Well, this is the perfect age for tantrums, but these were apparently doozies. Come to find out, both parents were lactose intolerant yet the entire family was eating dairy. They removed dairy from her diet after visiting a naturopath and the tantrums magically disappeared! But…

The grandparents did not see this first hand and did not want to follow the parents’ instructions to avoid dairy. The parents warned the grandparents that if they did give her dairy, then they would keep her overnight, too. So, the grandparents fed her dairy, witnessed the horrific tantrum and are now on board with no dairy for that little girl. The little girl praised her mom for taking her to that doctor so she could feel better.

Removing gluten and other foods has even helped reduce behaviors associated with autism and other neuro-developmental disorders, as discussed by Brain Balance Centers. That doesn’t mean that a change in diet will cure autism. But maybe you could minimize unwanted behavior and maximize concentration by eliminating certain foods.

As parents, grandparents or caretakers, we want to help our kids feel better, focus better and behave better. In fact, we would do whatever it takes!

So, the next time your kids seem to be acting up, don’t let food allergies and behavior that’s undesirable set in. Take a good look at their diets. Are the foods they eat fueling frustration and possibly even failure? Or are they fueling positive growth and experiences?

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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