Teenagers and children who have food allergies may suffer from behavioral and emotional challenges as well, including depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The results of a recent Australian study, published in the medical journal Allergy, showed that behavioral and mental health problems were more common among teenagers who had food allergies than in the general population.
The study, conducted at the Mater University Study of Pregnancy, tested teenagers at age 14 and again at 21. The data was based on symptoms of emotional and behavioral issues that were reported by either the teenagers themselves or by their mothers. These disorders included: depression, anxiety, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. Only about one third of the 14-year-olds self-reported the symptoms, but close to 50 percent of their mothers reported that they’d observed these symptoms. When the teens were tested again as young adults, 44 percent of those who had food allergies had self-reported emotional and behavioral problems as well. They were also twice as likely to have these problems follow them into adulthood as young adults who were non-allergic.
The lead investigator of the study, Mark Ferro, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, stated that it was unclear whether the majority of the teenagers who had food allergies were just not reporting their emotional and behavioral symptoms, or if the mothers of these teenagers were possibly over-reporting the problems. He went on to say that several points of view should be considered when assessing teenagers with both food allergies and behavioral or emotional issues, including that of the teen, their parents and the physician. Ferro concluded that the problems were clearly more than “just a phase” and that teenagers who had food allergies would likely struggle with mental health challenges into adulthood.
Again, this was a study conducted in Australia. There have been several incidents reported in the United States where behavioral changes are present in a child and a food allergy or intolerance is also either suspected or confirmed. Food additives, such as dyes, and sugar were also considered responsible for behavioral issues in children. However, most of these behavioral issues are discovered before the food allergy or intolerance, and a diet change is all that is needed to improve these symptoms.
If your child or teenager is showing signs of behavioral or emotional problems and has food allergies, talk to your child’s doctor. They will help you determine if there could be a connection between the two.
Have you (or your child) experienced both food allergies and behavioral or emotional problems? Has your child experienced behavioral changes because of food allergies or food additives? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below.