The gastrointestinal tract is a sensing, reactive device that monitors the material flowing through it. Symptoms arising from this system provide information about its dysfunction. Seven basic symptoms alert parents to gastrointestinal reactions to food - nausea, heartburn, vomiting, bloating, pain, constipation and diarrhea. The basic principle of gastrointestinal tract management is to treat symptoms as information. When the gastrointestinal tract complains, adjust your child’s food intake until the complaints disappear.
Since the digestive tract is a food processor, we assume that anything that goes wrong is usually caused by the material passing through it, until proven otherwise. When the system malfunctions, food input is altered in an intelligent manner to reduce or eliminate symptoms. The tract actively manages and responds to food with behavior that indicates pleasure or displeasure with food choices. A variety of sensors in the wall of the digestive tract assess the composition of the incoming food and send local hormone messages to regulate digestive behavior.
Some of the sensors belong to the immune system and these can decide that a food is no longer permissible to eat. When the "No" decision is made by immune sensors you are notified by symptoms you cannot ignore - pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Confusion may arise if the "No" decision is made by immune sensors several hours after eating a food, a common occurrence. By the time the alarms have gone off, you have forgotten what your child ate. While some reactions are immediate and dramatic responses to specific foods, parents are often not sure what bothers their children and have not been successful in avoiding the offending foods.
If your child has chronic gastrointestinal tract dysfunction, he or she may be in trouble beyond the digestive tract. Symptoms of gastrointestinal tract dysfunction are central to the wider range of manifestations of food allergy and is evidence that there are problems downstream (the rest of the body and brain) related to the food supply. The three most common digestive problems in infants and young children are:
All three may occur together or alternate. All three are likely to be food-related. The "irritable" or reactive bowel syndrome begins in infancy with colic, bloating, regurgitation, vomiting and diarrhea.
Colic in infancy is abdominal pain with the attendant emotional distress of the infant and his parents. Jenkins et al demonstrated that food allergy is a major cause of infantile colitis. Gastrointestinal symptoms are often associated with nose congestion, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath and bronchospasm (asthma), eczema, urticaria, and angioedema.
The combination of gastrointestinal symptoms with congestion, cough, hives, and/or eczema should suggest the diagnosis of delayed food allergy until proven otherwise. The food allergy is likely to be the delayed pattern and will not show up on allergy skin tests or RAST tests. The diagnosis must be confirmed by proper diet revision that resolves the problem.
Parents should know two principles of gastrointestinal tract management: