Guest blog by Naturopath Nicole Hannan of Alchemy Health & Wellbeing
Hi, my name is Nicole Hannan and I am a Naturopath with a special interest in allergies, intolerances and gastrointestinal disorders.
In light of the recent controversy surrounding infant formulas, Cyndi has asked me to write this post with the aim of bringing more perspective and awareness to the reality for infants and children living with severe allergies and intolerances.
I am unable to comment directly on the formula recipe that has been discussed over the past few days in the media as I am not aware of the exact ingredients or the context in which this formula is being recommended. I feel it is very important to know these details before passing any judgment.
With allergies, intolerances and gastrointestinal issues becoming an ever-increasing concern in Australia, it is of the utmost importance to understand what options are available to infants who are unable to breastfeed.
As a Naturopath, I am firmly of the belief that if a child can tolerate mother’s breast milk it is absolutely the best choice. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and the options available for those in this situation are far from ideal, especially when looking at the formulas from a wholefood perspective, rather than as a list of recommended daily intake values for individual nutrients, regardless of where those nutrients come from.
My passion for allergies, intolerances and gastrointestinal issues began five years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed at 7 months of age with severe protein intolerance and a rare gastrointestinal disorder named Eosinophilic Oesophagitis (EoE), one of a number of Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders (EGIDs). These disorders were originally thought to occur 1-4 in every 10,000 people but recent studies have shown that this number may now be as high as 1% of the population.
Our daughter was extremely distressed within hours of birth – she was never settled and very rarely slept. I persevered with breastfeeding on a strict and extreme loss diet recommended by an allergy specific dietician until she was 10 weeks old, at which point pathology tests showed that her gut inflammation levels were through the roof. She was rapidly continuing to lose weight (was classed as failure to thrive) and was continuing to scream in agony 14+ hours a day, while vomiting what seemed like every bit of breast milk she drank. At this point, despite my extreme distress, there was no choice other than to explore different options. During the 10 weeks, we sought advice from numerous doctors, paediatricians and health nurses – none of which were able to help us.
We were admitted to hospital after pleading for help and she was fed tinned dairy-based formula via a nasogastric tube. A week later she was even worse after reacting to the formula. At this point, we were finally prescribed an elemental formula consisting of free amino acids and other synthetic nutrients in a base of corn syrup solids, safflower oil and soy oil. This was one of a number of elemental formulas available and the only one she was able to tolerate. That being said, she could only tolerate it at 30% of the recommended strength.
Our daughter lived on this formula only for two years and failed every single food trial – reacting severely to even minute amounts (1/8th of a tsp) of supposedly low allergen foods such as pear, apple, rice and lamb. She has only recently been able to remove the elemental formula completely from her diet after five years of dedicated gut healing work and very strict and methodical food trials. As much as I disliked the formula, I am so incredibly grateful that it kept our daughter alive, as without it there were no other options.
The reason I have explained all of this is to increase awareness that this level of sensitivity and allergy is REAL! I would never have believed this if I had not lived it. At this stage, synthetic elemental formula is all that many of these infants can tolerate, but for the less extreme end of the allergy/intolerance spectrum there is a need for less processed nutritionally complete options, a gap which no doubt was attempting to be bridged by the formula recipe in question.
I am now fortunate enough to be able to help others who are living with severe allergies, intolerances and EGIDs and for every case diagnosed, there may be hundreds more out there who are undiagnosed.
Finally, I urge you to keep things in perspective and to please consider the many families affected by this epidemic of allergies before passing judgment on their choices, as many have very few options available to them.
Nicole Hannan, Naturopath – alchemyhealth.com.au