More than Belly Aches: Acid Reflux in Children
Acid reflux is often experienced differently in children and teens than it is in adults. Along with a wide range of symptoms, kids typically tell parents they have "fire in the belly and throat," a sign of acid reflux and not simply a stomach ache. Always take it seriously. Persistent reflux can erode tooth enamel, damage the lining of the esophagus, cause sore throat/laryngitis, interfere with swallowing, and increase the risk for diseases of the esophagus.
Acid reflux is triggered by too little stomach acid, which is needed to signal the lower esophagus to close tightly. When it fails to close, stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, creating a burning sensation. When persistent reflux affects a child's ability to enjoy eating, absorb nutrients, and manifests other health problems, it's labeled as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Occasional reflux is common in kids, but GERD is more serious, afflicting up to 84% of children age 2-17 and about 40% of infants.
Causes and treatment approaches vary widely, depending on the age of the child, their diet, and other health factors. Let's take a holistic look at acid reflux in kids including symptoms, causes, and ways to resolve the underlying causes and prevent serious damage to the digestive tract.Symptoms of Reflux & GERD in Kids:
A variety of symptoms accompany reflux - not every child will have all or even most of them.
- intense irritation to burning pain in the lower mid-chest or behind the breastbone
- stomach ache
- bad breath
- nausea / vomiting
- problems swallowing or painful swallowing
- medicines a child is taking (including antibiotics)
- being overweight or obese
- having a food sensitivity or allergy
- use of nicotine, caffeine and alcohol
- musculoskeletal abnormalities
- lack of exercise
- poor diet
- poor gut health
You may be familiar with prescription and over-the-counter medications for adults with reflux disease, such as proton-pump inhibitors and antacids. At best, these drugs mask symptoms and give only short-term relief. Given to children and teens, these drugs set kids up for a lifetime of digestive and intestinal issues because the root cause of the reflux is not addressed.Addressing the Root Cause of Reflux & GERD:
To get to the root cause of GERD, a holistic physician may test for food sensitivities, assess stomach acid production, and evaluate the child's diet and lifestyle habits. They may also assess for imbalances in gut health. To address underlying causes, holistic physicians may prescribe nutritional supplements / herbal remedies, guide you in making dietary changes, recommend exercise and stress management, and use physical medicine modalities such as abdominal massage. Each approach works in conjunction with the others based on individual needs with the aim to restore balance and health to your child's gut.
Helping Kids Eat Dairy-Free
If you've been told by a holistic health physician that your child needs to follow a dairy-free diet - don't panic! Today, there are numerous healthy and delicious dairy-free options. The first thing you will want to be clear about is if the dairy-free recommendation is due to lactose intolerance or to a dairy sensitivity. The two share similar symptoms but are very different conditions. Some children will have one, but many have both, and the approach to each is different. If you are unsure which condition your child has, double check with your doctor.
Lactose intolerance means that your child cannot digest milk sugar (lactose). It is a very common condition and you will see many dairy products, including milk, yogurt, butter and others, labeled "lactose free" or "safe for lactose intolerance." A dairy sensitivity or allergy means that your child has difficulty digesting milk protein (whey, casein).
In either condition, symptoms can include, among other things, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, vomiting, rash, sinus infection, and respiratory distress. In some cases, the child is at risk for a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction that can shut down the child's airways - immediate medical attention is necessary.
Once your physician has diagnosed the type of allergy/intolerance, together you can create a plan for finding dairy-free substitutions in order to keep your child deliciously nourished. Here are a few suggestions:
Choose Vegan Foods. Vegan foods are dairy-free, as well as meat-free. Selecting vegan foods is a great way to enjoy a variety of flavors that are free from all sources of dairy.
Try Alternatives to Milk. These days the dairy aisle has a new neighbor: a dairy-free section with a variety of alternative products made from rice, soy, almond, cashew, walnut, hemp, and coconut. The selection of products includes cheese, "milks", ice cream, cream cheese, and yogurt to name a few. Also, Kosher products labeled Pareve do not contain dairy. Different brands of these alternative dairy options will vary in consistency, flavor, and nutrition profiles. Experiment with several to find those that best suit your family's needs. As with other dairy products, keep an eye on the sugar content by reading labels.
Choose More Fresh, Whole Foods. Get your kids in the habit of eating in-season, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Your physician will have other tips specific to your child's needs. It's important to follow your doctor's advice for making these changes easy and enjoyable for your child. Eventually, they won't miss dairy at all.
Papaya Power for Digestive Health
Many foods naturally contain enzymes, which are molecules that speed up chemical reactions. Digestive enzymes, as you may have guessed, support various digestive processes. One food that contains important digestive enzymes is papaya.
A deep yellow, sweet tropical fruit, papaya is rich in papain, which contains the digestive enzyme called protease that helps breakdown protein. If the body is deficient in this enzyme (due to genetics, illness, or food allergy), then protein-rich foods cannot be properly digested; consequently, you may experience indigestion or heartburn. The protease enzymes in papaya (among other tropical fruits), have been shown to help ease symptoms associated with an upset stomach and heartburn.
To reap the benefits of the enzymes in these foods, eat them raw at their peak freshness and chew mindfully as saliva activates many enzymes. If you are taking papaya as a digestive enzyme supplement, check with your holistic health practitioner about taking it individually or in combination with other enzymes as this can make a significant difference in effectiveness for your health concerns.
An Asian spice, well-known for its sweet and zesty zing, ginger has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and support digestion. As a digestive aid, this knobby, horn-shaped root is used to nourish and warm the digestive organs, including the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and liver. Ginger stimulates production of enzymes in all digestive pathways.
Research indicates that biologically active compounds in ginger bind to receptors in the digestive tract. This process seems instrumental for minimizing the sensations that create nausea and indigestion. Researchers also note that ginger plays a role in the breakdown of starches and fatty food - all good things when your tummy has gone sour.
There are many preparations of ginger that kids, as well as adults, can enjoy and use when experiencing an upset stomach. This includes ginger chews, lozenges, and fresh or dried tea infusions. Tinctures, capsules, and extracts can be prepared in varying strengths based upon individual medicinal needs, determined through consultation with a holistic physician.