A Holistic Approach to Food Allergies

Ardra Jarvis is a bit of a lay expert on food allergies. Of her six children, three are allergic to one kind of food or another. But for her youngest, Micaiah, 3, the usual approach, like eliminating foods and giving antihistamines, only helped so much.

“He had different issues going on since he was 3 months old,” Ardra says. “He tested positive for allergies to dairy and eggs at 1 year old and shrimp and almonds at 2 ½, but after we eliminated those, he still had pain in his GI tract and inflammation. It was one thing after another.”

The symptoms piled up: a bout of bronchiolitis that required hospitalization, atopic eczema, fructose malabsorption, anemia, sleep issues, allergic reactions to latex, problems with gluten (even though he tested negative for celiac disease) and periodic skin redness and wheezing.

Now, with the help of the Food Reactions Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — part of the Integrative Health Program — Micaiah is finding the help he needs to manage his reactions to food and enjoy being a typical kid.

Teaming Up for Treatment

The unique clinic takes a holistic, innovative approach to caring for children with food reactions that others have been unable to explain or treat.


At a recent appointment, Ardra and Micaiah met with a trio of CHOP experts: Pediatric Gastroenterologist Maria Mascarenhas, MBBS, Medical Director of the Clinical Nutrition Department and the Integrative Health Program; Pediatric Allergist Terri Brown-Whitehorn, MD; and Clinical Dietitian Amy Dean, MPH, RD, CSP, LDN.

In addition to conducting a physical exam, they listened to Ardra review Micaiah’s current condition (which is improving) and looked over recent test results. They tossed around possibilities.

“The swallowing study was a little off,” Mascarenhas said. “Maybe he has trouble swallowing normal secretions lying down at night and that’s why he wakes up coughing.”

Since his symptoms have been milder over the winter, Dr. Brown-Whitehorn suggested pollen may be a trigger: “We don’t want to blame a food for what could be an allergy to grass and trees.”

Dean mentioned a lecture on histamine in food she and Mascarenhas had heard: “We thought of Micaiah, that perhaps the foods he’s reacting to are high in histamine.”

Together, they created a plan to introduce low-fructose, low-histamine fruit and continue avoiding gluten.

“The microbiome in the gut changes around 3 to 4 years old,” Mascarenhas said. “This could explain why things are moving in the right direction. We may be able to re-educate the flora in his microbiome to tolerate new foods.”

High Value in High-touch Care

After the visit, Ardra is pleased. Having the three clinicians in the same room at the same time and knowing that her son had been on their minds between appointments means everything to her. It’s these types of extra touches that the integrative health approach brings to patients and families.

“There is so much value in this,” she says. “We cover a lot of bases, and they’re receptive to what I see at home and what I say. I know they’re always thinking about him and what will help. There isn’t a definitive answer or treatment, but we’re making progress. The clinic has definitely been good for us.”