Connecting with other parents is a fantastic way to deal with the stresses of parenting. Mommy A-Z is a helpful online community of parents. With 14,000 members on Facebook, it’s a great platform to stay updated with parenting tips and trends, and seek help for any issues.
The administrators of the group recently organised an “Ask Me Anything” session with Dr. Anupam Sibal, Senior Consultant Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, as well as Group Medical Director at Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.
He answered all the attendees’ questions on gastro ailments, food allergies and gut problems in children. Read some excerpts from this interesting session, here:
Q: WHAT IS CELIAC DISEASE? IS IT COMMON AMONG INDIAN CHILDREN?
Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten- a protein present in wheat, barley and rye. This autoimmune disorder occurs mostly in people with a genetic predisposition for it. It’s not a simple allergy that can be treated, and is present throughout one’s life. Once, Dr. Sibal diagnosed two siblings with celiac disease, and later diagnosed their grandmother of having the same. The woman was so thankful, she exclaimed that she began living her life after the age of 60!
Dr. Sibal cited some research carried out in Haryana that states 1 in 200 people are allergic to gluten. This shows that it’s commonly present in Indians, and often goes undiagnosed. However, it’s important to note that it’s easily controlled and one can live a normal life, despite having it.
Q. WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD ONE WATCH FOR WHEN CELIAC DISEASE IS SUSPECTED?
One could be allergic to gluten if one feels excessively tired, is prone to being irritable, frequently suffers from stomach issues such as diarrhoea, constipation, tummy aches and bloating. A simple blood test shows indications of being celiac, and an endoscopy proves it as certain.
Q. IS A CHILD’S CONSISTENT COUGH A SIGN OF A FOOD ALLERGY?
It’s uncommon that a food allergy causes a consistent cough. The most common reason is exposure to something in the house. This could be pets at home, heavy upholstery, indoor plants, colouring agents present in food, certain kinds of foods– ice-cream, chilled drinks, citrusy foods. The best way to determine the cause is to eliminate the above-named factors one-by-one and analyse what the trigger could be. Delhi’s pollution is also a major causative factor, and in some severe cases a broncho-dilator is the best form of treatment.
Dr. Anupam Sibal.
Q. WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF CHILDREN OUTGROWING ALLERGIES?
It depends on the allergy. Celiac disease and nut allergies are permanent, but lactose (milk and milk product) allergies can be curbed by consuming a lactase enzyme before consuming milk. Some research is underway where a similar enzyme is being identified for celiac disease. Simpler allergies like eggs are outgrown by most children by the age of 5.
Q. HOW CAN WE PREVENT ALLERGIES IN BABIES?
The only foolproof method is prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months. According to Dr. Sibal, there is a definite reduction in incidence of allergies in children who are exclusively breastfed. This holds true for asthma as well. Eating certain foods (like nuts) during pregnancy in the hope that your child isn’t allergic to that food, is not a scientifically proven method of preventing allergies.
There is a growing understanding of the importance of epigenetics- “we are what our grandparents ate”. This field of research effectively proves that what our grandparents consumed two generations ago, largely determine our bodily functions.
Q. IS SUGAR REALLY EVIL?
Dr. Sibal ascribes to the belief that sugar must be avoided for as long as possible. Even when it’s introduced, it shouldn’t be consumed on a regular basis. Children that are overweight or lead unhealthy lifestyles, are pre-disposed to developing heart disease, fatty livers and bad lipid profiles, later in life.
Q. ARE PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENTS NECESSARY FOR GOOD HEALTH?
The science of probiotics introduces live bacteria into our systems through an external source, to help with common gut problems like diarrhoea, constipation, colic and even eczema. Probiotics are good for health, but it’s imperative to know which probiotic to have, for what specific condition, and in what dose. Probiotics in a supplement form don’t necessarily treat specific issues, but naturally occurring probiotics like yogurt are a great way to raise immunity. Fermented foods can also perform in a similar manner to yogurt. However, fermented foods haven’t yet been studied as much as probiotics.
Dr. Anupam Sibal during the session
Q. WHY IS ACID REFLUX SO COMMON IN BABIES?
The sphincter, which connects the food pipe to the mouth, isn’t as developed in babies as it is in adults. As babies grow, their sphincters become stronger and they’re able to hold their necks, which helps to prevent acid reflux. Acid reflux is very common, and babies must be burped after every single feed. Keep in mind that acid reflux is only a disease, if the baby’s weight doesn’t increase.
Q. WHY DO CHILDREN DEVELOP STOMACH PROBLEMS WHEN GOING THROUGH A BIG LIFE CHANGE OR A STRESSFUL SITUATION?
The gut has an enteric nervous system, which contains over 100 million neurons. These act as the body’s defence mechanism to stressful situations, and make children vomit or have diarrhoea just before exams. Sometimes, a psychological mishap can translate into stomach problems, such as parents going through a divorce, or if the mother starts working after being a stay-at-home mom. Once the psychological cause is identified, it’s easier to deal with the stomach ailment.
Q. CAN CHILDREN/ PEOPLE DEVELOP ALLERGIES LATER IN LIFE?
Yes, it’s very common to develop allergies later in life. In fact, some (like lactose allergies) are prone to developing as one gets older.
Q. WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DETERMINE ALLERGIES?
Expensive allergy tests don’t give a complete and comprehensive answer. The best way to determine any particular allergy is by eliminating individual food groups for up to two weeks, and analysing the results.
This is merely a round-up of Dr. Sibal’s insightful session. You can visit him (details below) for any specific queries.
Dr. Sibal operates out of his clinic at C-378 Defence Colony, New Delhi and Apollo Hospital