By Christine L. Pollock
“He giggled!” Melissa Cole told me. “My son actually giggled. He’s never done that before–he’s always had an uncontrolled laugh. I almost cried when I heard it.”
Five-year-old Michael Cole’s behavior had been unusual since he was a few months old. His parents first noticed that he pushed them away at feeding times and didn’t want to be touched, even when he was hurt. Their son was very sensitive to change and would become completely uncontrollable if something unusual happened. Melissa and Aron Cole felt like they were terrible parents.
When he entered kindergarten, Michael had an aide to help him function in the classroom. He was in counseling to learn how to cope socially. He needed a therapist to help with his fine motor skills. Doctors couldn’t give a definitive diagnosis, but his parents knew something was amiss.
Although Michael had many signs of autism, the doctors had ruled that out. One day, Aron came home and suggested testing Michael for food intolerances and allergies.
They went to a Naturopathic doctor for testing. The results showed that Michael had intolerances to many different foods including almost all dairy products and most grains. When these foods were removed from his diet, Michael improved dramatically.
The giggle at the dinner table, when Michael was five and a half years old, was one of Michael’s first signs of improvement. Soon after that, he was functioning normally in a classroom, without an aide. Now, two years later, he is a happy boy who asks his parents for hugs. He fits in naturally with his peers. The answer was there all the time – right in the food he ate.
For years I had heard of the benefits of healthy diets, and my kids seemed all right–except for one son with asthma. Why should I change? I talked to several of my friends who have studied food and its effect on children, and started to understand the importance of good nutrition in the modern world.
“You couldn’t do it if someone paid you,” my inner voice-of-reason taunted me. I want to prove that voice wrong. A self-proclaimed Queen of Marshmallow and Peanut Butter Sandwiches can turn into Granola Mommy. At least, I think she can.
Dr. Irmgard Howard, a biochemist with a PhD from Duke University, became interested in nutrition and its effects on behavior after reading some magazine articles in Organic Gardening and Farming and Prevention. Dr. Howard studied journals, magazines, and books to learn more about additives. She kept current with the FDA statements about food, and she closely checked labels.
She suspected that one of her children might have a food sensitivity. After observing her child’s reactions to certain foods, Dr. Howard detected a behavioral reaction to the additive gum acacia, and to natural tomatoes. Gum acacia is often used as a thickener in candies and pharmacy products. The tomato sensitivity ran in the family.
Dr. Howard understood the distinction between food allergies and food intolerances (sensitivities). The basic difference between an allergy and intolerance is in how your body handles the food. In an allergy, the body considers the food as a foreign substance and tries to fight it. Symptoms showing the fight against the invasion range from hives to vomiting.
When a person has a food intolerance, the symptoms are much less visible. An intolerance can be caused by the body’s inability to really digest the food. This is usually due to a biochemical insufficiency. The symptoms of intolerance range from stomach cramping, shifts in mood, headaches, to hyperactivity.
Although many allergies and intolerances are hereditary, each child can react differently. Emma (name changed for privacy) is the mother of three children ages five, three, and one. One has food allergies, one has food intolerances, and the third does not appear to have any reactions to food.
Emma’s journey into the world of nutrition began a couple of years ago. When her one year old was a nursing infant, she noticed that he was very uncomfortable when she ate dairy products. When Emma eliminated dairy from her diet, her son was much more peaceful and slept much better.
When the boy was one year old, Emma weaned him from nursing and started giving him cow’s milk. Her son vomited and developed blotches on his face whenever he had milk.
In order to learn more about his reaction to food, Emma turned to books. One book that really helped her was Is This Your Child? by Doris Rapp. Rapp described different food reactions. Emma realized that her son most likely had some food allergies. She also noticed that some of the food reactive behaviors in the book reminded her of her daughter.
Her youngest daughter was an excessive whiner. When she started whining, nothing could make her stop and she was very prone to tantrums. The child was also developmentally much slower than her older sister at the same age. At first Emma thought it was her parenting style. Maybe she was too demanding and maybe her expectations were too high.
After reading Rapp’s book, Emma realized her daughter’s emotional and mental struggles could be food related. Emma and her husband decided to take their children to get tested for food sensitivities. Through a friend, they heard of an electrodermal test given by Dr. Donald Warren, a Naturopathic doctor in Canada.
Dr. Warren checked Emma’s youngest daughter and son for sensitivities to seventy-eight different foods. Emma and her husband did not feel that their oldest daughter needed testing. The results showed that their son was sensitive to red meat and shellfish. Their youngest daughter was sensitive to cane sugar and dairy.
For six weeks, Emma took all dairy products and sugar from her daughter’s diet. She found it a daunting task. In order to eliminate all sugar from their food, Emma had to purchase organic foods. The fresh fruits and vegetables were costly and she was making a lot of food-like soups-from scratch. Emma continued eliminating dairy from her son’s diet. Her son did not get hives or vomit and her daughter became much happier and more mentally alert.
Before the diet change, if you asked the girl what she had done that day, she would answer, “I don’t know.” She was also unable to write her name or remember things like letters, numbers, or songs. After the diet change, the daughter would talk about her day in great detail. She also learned how to write her full name “almost overnight” according to her mother.
As she changed her daughter’s diet, Emma documented all the behavioral and mental changes she noticed. She observed behaviors such as her daughter’s artwork. The girl who used to do “circle scribbles” with one color in a coloring book started tracing the lines of pictures, then filling them in with many colors. She spoke much more clearly and began singing songs. After the six week trial period, Emma and her husband decided to stick with the diet change. Emma, who has no fondness for the kitchen or cooking, states, “It’s hard. It’s very hard-and expensive. But the results are worth it.”
Dr. Donald Warren, president of the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, sees many children go through dramatic changes like Emma’s daughter and Michael. In fact, his own son was helped through a diet change. Dr. Warren now devotes his time to helping other people determine healthier eating habits for their particular bodies.
With modern science, one would expect individuals to live happier, healthier lives. Instead, where it was once the norm to go to a doctor when you were in your forties, now, as Dr. Warren states, young children are regularly visiting doctors for serious health problems.
“Food is not only the basis for good health, but it is one of the primary means to the health of a person. It’s what you eat and what you don’t eat that’s important.” Dr. Warren sums up. It’s like Hippocrates once stated, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
As a mother and wife, I find my eyes continuing to be opened. I’m starting slowly, but doing my research. The synthetic colors and unnecessary preservatives are gradually leaving my shelves. And maybe, just maybe, I can help my asthmatic son breathe a little better. That’s enough incentive for me to become a Granola Mommy.
Christine is a mother of three amazing boys. She is the managing editor for KIDS FIRST!® and is a freelance writer based in Western NY.
If You Suspect Food Intolerence
If you suspect that your child is having a negative reaction to the food they are consuming, Dr. Howard recommends the following:
Start with your family history. Write down any allergies or intolerances family members have. Ask your parents and grandparents as well as siblings.
Document foods your children eat and what their behavior is like after they eat.
Take suspect foods and additives out of their diet. Some common natural food sensitivities are corn, wheat, milk, tomatoes, eggs, and nuts.
Read the labels. Some additives affect certain children. Yellow number five is especially problematic, and must be listed by name on a food label.
Be wary of sulfites. Some people react severely to these sulfur-based preservatives, which reduce and prevent discoloration of light-colored fruits and vegetables. Asthmatics might be particularly susceptible to the sulfites. Some people have a mild reaction to them, but others they have severe reactions. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) calls the reaction to sulfites “allergic-type responses.”
Be careful with information obtained from the Internet. Not all sites are reliable. Read college textbooks and journal articles for your best information.
The Discovery of Food Intolerences
In the 1950’s, a psychologist named Dr. Theron Randolph presented the idea that the behavior of some of his patients might be a result of the food they were eating. Since Randolph’s initial presentation, many studies have been done, but there have been no definitive answers.
There are several possible reasons why the studies remain inconclusive. One is heredity. Some people are just more genetically sensitive to various foods and additives on the market. Thus, it’s difficult to compare the results.
Another reason could be that the studies themselves were too hard to carry out. For instance, one study had parents completely change their child’s diet for six weeks – eliminating additives and dyes. Many parents, finding this too complicated, didn’t follow through to the end. Therefore, the study was incomplete.
Although nothing is definitive, there are statistics and studies that hint at a true correlation of food and behavior. For example, the International Journal of Biosocial Research shows a study in which some New York City public schools changed the food offered at lunch time. They gradually took away additives-including preservatives, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). BHA and BHT are compounds used to preserve fats. The food program also reduced the sugar in the foods. The study lasted for three years and, in that time, the national percentile rank in the New York City schools went from the thirty-ninth percentile to the fifty-fifth. This was the biggest, fastest gain ever found in a large population.
International Journal of Biosocial Research, 5(2), 1983, p. 99-106