The Integrative Health Program Helps Families Find Elusive Answers

Published on in Children's View

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, antihistamines and eliminating foods, only helped so much.

Andra and son Micaiah “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, but after we eliminated those, he still had GI pain and inflammation. It was one thing after another.”

His symptoms piled up: eczema, fructose malabsorption, anemia, sleep issues, problems with gluten, periodic skin redness and wheezing.

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

Holistic approach

“Integrated health combines traditional and complementary medicine with the goal of treating the whole child — the mind, body and soul,” says Pediatric Gastroenterologist Maria R. Mascarenhas, MBBS, Medical Director, Integrative Health Program. “It gives us new tools to fight disease, to combat pain and to increase the health of a child.”

Because the integrative services are provided at CHOP, care providers meet the Hospital’s high standards and have access to the child’s medical records, ensuring seamless, safe care.

In the Food Reactions Clinic, experts consider everything that may affect the child’s condition. This holistic approach was evident at a recent appointment when Micaiah and Ardra met with a trio of CHOP experts: Mascarenhas; Pediatric Allergist Terri Brown-Whitehorn, MD; and Clinical Dietitian Amy Dean, MPH, RD, CSP, LDN. After a physical exam, they listened to Ardra describe Micaiah’s current condition (which is improving) and reviewed recent test results. They tossed around possibilities.

Mascarenhas pointed to an abnormal swallowing study: “Maybe he has trouble swallowing normal secretions lying down at night, and that’s why he wakes up coughing.”

Since his symptoms were milder over the winter, 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 she and Mascarenhas had heard on how histamine in food can cause reactions: “We thought of Micaiah.”

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 intestine to tolerate new foods.”

High value in high-touch care

After the visit, Ardra was encouraged. “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 — with the clinic’s help — we’re making progress.”

The big picture

A nontraditional, comprehensive approach to health and wellness is at the heart of CHOP’s Integrative Health Program. Physicians and researchers have found that providing complementary care that considers the whole child — family, environment, mind, body and soul — can reduce stress, speed healing and in some cases resolve symptoms that aren’t addressed through more conventional therapies.

In addition to the Food Reactions Clinic, there are other Integrative Health offerings:

  • The Integrative Health Nutrition Program focuses on harnessing the power of food to improve the health of children with chronic medical conditions, using a “food as medicine” approach.
  • The Integrative Gastroenterology Clinic is for children with GI disorders, like inflammatory bowel disease, who seek a holistic approach to treatment.
  • Acupuncture, provided by trained specialists, can stimulate the body’s natural healing ability, which can reduce pain, relieve nausea and improve functioning.

In the future, Integrative Health plans to offer yoga, pediatric massage therapy and mindfulness sessions, as they have been shown to have physical and emotional benefits, especially for children with chronic conditions.

Integrative Health is the beneficiary of this year’s Daisy Days campaign. Visit CHOPDaisyDays.org to meet Quinn, a 6-year-old patient with brain cancer who benefited from the program.