I’m a pediatric nutritionist with long experience, and I wish you’d stop talking so much about food and nutrition with your kids.
That sounds crazy, I know. Food and nutrition are absolutely pivotal for your kids’ brains, behavior, growth, mood, learning… everything. No wonder then that food, recipes, and nutrition talk are all over the internet and mom blogger universe. From how to make killer bento lunches to keto for kids (mistake, BTW, unless under certain circumstances), everyone has something to say.
The good thing about this is that we are all woke now on the importance of what we eat, where food comes from, and how we grow it, whether it’s chickens, chocolate, or chard. We really are what we eat. We eat, and we turn the food into us – hair, bones, teeth, mood, and all. Period. That’s pretty much it (though a lot can go wrong along that path.. fixing that for kids is pretty much what I do).
But… there is a HUGE downside, and it’s bad for kids. It creates undue anxiety, stress, and overwhelm for kids, young ones and teens alike. It really stresses moms out too. I run into this often in my clinical practice, and I can tell you that it has gotten worse as our (justified!) enthusiasm for whole, healthy foods has exploded in the last 10-15 years. You’ll want to avoid these pitfalls with your kids. Here’s my list of Fail vs Fabulous, when encouraging healthy nutrition and food habits in your family.
It’s so easy to label a food “good” or “bad”. There’s plenty of junk out there, including organic junk. Obviously, it isn’t what kids should live on. But don’t drill these labels into your kids’ minds. What they need to learn is discernment – and they will. Eventually, ideally, when they’re out and about on their own without you, those “bad” foods should be neutral to them.
What do I mean by “neutral”? I mean that the idea of eating that food doesn’t provoke anxiety. It isn’t even compelling, because it was never forbidden in the first place. It doesn’t elicit judgment or shaming for themselves, or toward friends and peers who eat those foods.
As long as there is no safety or egregious comfort issue – as in, needing an Epi Pen, or a vomit-to-shock (FPIES) reaction, hives, migraine, nausea, bloating, burning diarrhea, disabling gas pain – then let kids have forays into junk. Not daily staples or regular snacks, mind you, but occasional dabbling.
Instead: Provide treats for special occasions (or every so often for no reason other than it’s fun) with no discussion about whether it’s “good” or “bad”. Again, safety issues and food allergens or triggers aside, simply make or buy some fun food, and let your child enjoy, care-free.
My one exception: Spoiled food. This IS bad and dangerous and kids need to learn that too. So, tell them.
2 – Don’t Expect A Young Child to Have Discernment (or even care)
Speaking of discernment, forget needing your four year old to have it. That’s your job. Children do not need to know what organic is, or glyphosate, or MSG, colors, additives, gluten or what have you. They shouldn’t care either. They’re little and they have much more important stuff going on in their little worlds. Please stop walking them through the supermarket and asking them to pay attention to labels or what you’re buying. Believe me, they are observing. They don’t need the specifics, and this will only be information overload that can lead to anxiety or meal time control battles. They need you to be chill, in charge, and happy that you’re with them (most the time). That’s about it.
Instead: Lead by example. Say less, do more. If your child accompanies you shopping, let them day dream and leave them alone; if they love chatter, join them in the randomness of it. Your child doesn’t need every moment to be teachable!
If they see something truly junky or sugary or processed that they pitch a fit for (and they will, because supermarkets place colorful cartoony packaging at your child’s eye level on purpose), that’s your call. Sometimes we can get away with floating to the next aisle with a soothing “Hmm no I don’t want to do that today” (and refrain from giving a reason why). Other days, you know the both of you don’t have it in you to make it home without giving in. Up to you, but avoid each supermarket trip rewarded with a junk treat.
If you’re in servitude to your stove or kitchen and miserable making all this scratch beautiful food, guess what – your kids know. Even your baby can tell. The most important thing here is that you get to be happy and enjoy food. Even if there are stressors, including big ones, about what can be safely eaten in your household, endeavor to find the joy in some of it. Joy is, above all else, why we’re here.
3 – Stop Explaining Everything and Stop Feeling Sorry For Your Kids with Diet Restrictions
You’re in charge. You’re the adult. If you know your child does poorly with a particular food, and they are fiendish about getting it and asking for it constantly anyway, oh well! You know best and have decided that they’re not going to have that food, period. Remember: This goes for foods that are a known danger or debilitating to your child – not for foods that are imperfect, but harmless.
Explaining and justifying your parenting choices to a young child (or even a teen) is, um, a bad idea. Doing so engenders entitlement in your child, which can make their opposition and protests even bigger. In little ones, expect tantrums, anxiety, and meltdowns when you try the “here’s why” route. In teens, expect impressive arguments, brooding, and door slamming. Most of all, don’t expect or need your kids to agree with you.
Instead: If a child asks for a reason why, offer it in the most developmentally concrete way for that child’s age. Refrain from volunteering comments like “it’s bad for you” or “will make you sick” or “your body can’t have that.” Don’t label the food or your child’s body as defective or bad.
Younger kids can be redirected with “there isn’t any more of that at the store so I found this one instead” or “I think this will feel really good in your tummy. Let’s try it and you let me know.”
Teens are reaching a point of practicing discernment on their own. Experimentation and screw ups are par for the course at this age. Let them experience the discomfort of eating the wrong food. You will decide when you have had enough as a parent: “I realize this isn’t what you want, but I am the one taking care of/rescuing you each time you feel sick from eating xyz. So, that food is no longer going to be in the house, and I won’t buy it anymore. If you eat it on purpose outside of here, I won’t be able to help you.” And then there’s always “..because I am the one buying the food, and I said so.”
4 – Stop Feeding Your Kids Like They’re Gwyneth Paltrow (or expecting them to like it)
Oh dear. How many, many food diaries I have seen that look this beautiful: Green smoothies, pumpkin seeds, sprouted Einkorn homemade bread, kombucha, fermented kvass, homemade dosa, coconut flour pancakes, avocado toast, bone broth… Or, a list of light veggie snacks all day long: Carrots, celery, nori, cucumbers, and apple slices with a few cashews. Or, a food diary that shows me 120 grams of protein and less than 60 grams of carbs (a nearly ketogenic intake).
Those are beautiful foods. Some kids really love this stuff. But, usually, it turns out this is a little dysfunctional. There are too many food rules in the house, and it’s causing tension to comply so stringently with eating only organic, perfect whole foods.
I’ll also usually discover that in these households, kids are falling off their growth patterns, experiencing stunting, or underweight. What tends to happen here is kids end up low for total calories, low for carbohydrates, and high for fats and protein. This is a great eating style for adults (who are not growing), but it can cause stunting and underweight in children.
Here is a common anecdote from my practice: I began working with a mom whose child was eating an overly restricted diet. Mom removed all processed foods entirely, based on the belief that any of them, at any time, are bad. Her child also happened to be a picky eater and refused many textures, limiting her choices more. On top of this, based on a misinterpreted blood test for a food sensitivity panel that the mom had somehow done on her own prior to our meeting, the child was only allowed to eat 7 foods, and had been eating this very restricted diet for years. She was not growing, had miserable behavior and sleep problems, and was trending toward anemia.
It turned out, right off the bat, the child could eat many foods that mom had wrongly assumed were trouble. A shift in view point on the good vs bad food mythology helped a lot. The child’s behavior improved immediately and she gained some much needed weight. Finally, her brain and body were getting replenished.
But even after a few sessions, things didn’t sound quite right. So I asked for an updated food diary. Mom shared a usual day food intake of small quantities, throughout the day, of raisins, peanuts, maple syrup, rice, potato chips, and a brownie. That was it. That was a usual day of food. This explained the re-emerging problems: No protein, no good fats or oils, too little food over all, a grazing pattern, and few micronutrient rich foods (for vitamins and minerals).
Mom said this child would sometimes eat chicken. So I asked – what if you gave a chicken nugget, would she like that, or try it?
A big silence followed. Mom was stunned. She had never done that, and wouldn’t, “because, you know, they’re so junky.” We agreed to give it a try after a quick search gave us some brand options she could live with. There are ready to heat and eat versions of this stuff that aren’t so terrible, or are gluten free too.
Instead – This child was already eating a junky poor diet. It didn’t matter if the peanuts and maple syrup were organic. Those alone don’t make up a whole foods diet. So, toss in some fun. Find some ready to serve, heat-and-eat stuff so you don’t have to work so hard cooking it all from scratch. If you hit on something, then you can make your own scratch version even better if you like.
Let kids be kids. They need different diets than adults. They shouldn’t be eating they way you do, most likely. Peruse my blog for more ideas and tips on how kids eat, what they need, and some recipes to try.
• 5 – Baby Led Weaning Is Great… For Babies
No, babies and children don’t know what they need all the time, and don’t necessarily have a keen inner wisdom that they can tap at a moment’s notice. Some babies wean because they feel eager and ready to move on. Some can’t get there, and won’t, even when it is safer and healthier for them to do so. Don’t pressure your young child to know everything. I’ve met many toddlers way past the day they needed to wean, and mom is still waiting for permission to do so. Nope nope nope. You’re in charge, mom.
Likewise, toddlers and kids need direction too. Weaned or not, presenting food all day long in a parade of choices is often just plain overwhelming and frustrating for little kids. It’s too demanding to expect that they will know what to do. This strategy can create anxiety in young kids, while mom or dad get super frustrated by the poor growth and picky appetite that this can often trigger too.
- Don’t expect them to guide you in making their food choices. Sure they will have their preferences, but it is your job to feed them.
- Don’t expect that they will always know or verbalize when they’re full or when they’re hungry. Especially when kids have used reflux medicines, appetite and its cues will be weakened over time. If you need help with this, contact me or speak to your pediatrician.
- Don’t chatter about how important food is. Just make or buy something you love to share and enjoy with your family.
- Don’t allow non stop grazing. Toddlers and young kids grow, sleep, and behave better with distinct snack times and mealtimes.
- Don’t limit texture options to just pincer grasp foods and pouches. Kids can be rigid. The longer you wait for them to reach for a new food, the longer you may be waiting. I’ve met several four and five year olds who don’t know how to chew. It’s ok to rock their world a bit and expect them to progress much earlier on.
Instead – Make food a benign or pleasant background piece. At snack or meal times, it’s just there, beckoning. Allow a choice between 2, maybe 3 foods at most. Present mixed textures and novelty, including foods that might be messy or that require mastery of a utensil. Let your child feed himself or get messy. Good help can be had with a pediatric occupational therapist if need be – let your doctor know you’d like help, and get a referral, if feeding is so stalled that your child isn’t growing or gaining well.
I really meant it …
…when I said that the most important reason why we are all here is joy. Eating and food are great paths to create it, share it, grow it. More than anything you say or do around food in your household, making food a generally positive, inquisitive, and expansive experience is what will create good self care and eating habits in your growing family. For extreme picky eaters, you may have other problems afoot that need tackling. Check out my e book here for more details on how to redirect that too.
How was your child’s school physical, did you talk about upcoming flu season and how to use nutrition and food to stay healthy?
Probably not, but you likely were encouraged to get a flu shot for your child, even though they have a fairly poor record of success. Plenty of not so subtle efforts are afoot to pit parent against parent and doctor against parent, sadly. Increasingly, parents come to my office with anxiety over pressure felt socially, at school, and in the doctor’s office to “just do it” – vaccinate to the CDC’s specs – regardless of a family member’s medical needs, history, ethical or efficacy questions, or existing laws that protect choice.
How bad can it be? Well, it has gotten grim. In Africa, a report has been made of children have been vaccinated at gunpoint. In 2007, Maryland schoolchildren were rounded up into a courthouse and forcibly vaccinated under watchful eyes of armed officers and police dogs. And in 2011, a Chicago mother was held in a gunpoint stand off with police after she refused to continue Risperdal for her daughter, a medication that the girl tolerated poorly.
School physicals are where the pressure may be at its worst. Many parents believe if they don’t vaccinate their children, school access is denied – a fallacy not upheld by existing laws nationwide. Most states have exemptions to permit individual needs around vaccination. Your child can go to school without following the CDC vaccine schedule, in most states. This may not be easy, but your child’s health and safety are too precious to risk, if any possibility exists that a vaccine may trigger a reaction – which I have witnessed many times, in my twenty odd years in pediatric nutrition practice.
There are many reasons to individualize vaccination schedules, like any other medical treatment. Some children have allergies to ingredients in shots (click here for vaccine ingredients, and here for information on traces of nuts in vaccines), or family history of adverse reaction. Every parent should know the eight questions to ask before giving any vaccine to a child.
Manage the pressure at your child’s next physical by presenting some of the information below. If your doctor won’t discuss it, consider finding a pediatrician who respects your concerns. A naturopathic doctor or osteopath are often informed on options beyond vaccines for preventing and treating infectious diseases, such as how to use food, nutrition, and herbal tools to support the immune system. Chapter 6 of this book explains how to find different types of providers; another chapter explains how to use nutrition to stay healthy and avoid infections. Here are points to discuss with your child’s health care provider:
(1) Vaccinations can spread disease. They are supposed to prevent disease, but disease transmission from vaccines has been repeatedly documented. If your child just started school and just got sick, proximity to newly vaccinated peers may be a factor. Here are examples:
– Flumist vaccination showed a 2.5% rate of transmission from recently vaccinated to unvaccinated persons. Meanwhile, getting no vaccine for flu at all showed only a 4% risk of flu – which means that getting this vaccine not only makes an arguably insignificant difference in protecting you from flu, it may actually spread the flu as well.
– Polio vaccine is a documented source of polio infection. According to the CDC, cases spread by polio vaccine are essentially identical to wild type cases – meaning that the “protection” from vaccine was just as dangerous as actual infection.
– Prevnar vaccine has been shown to worsen the virulence of pneumococcal bacteria strains in sputum of vaccinees – meaning that children given Prevnar can spread more virulent bacteria than unvaccinated children.
– Chickenpox (Varicella) transmission after vaccination has been documented, and is most likely if a rash develops after getting the shot. Even MedLine Plus states that vaccinated children can still get and spread chickenpox. Chickenpox outbreaks continue to occur even in highly vaccinated populations.
– In recent pertussis outbreaks, many of the infected were vaccinated. Click for another study that showed the same finding. Some speculate that vaccination has triggered a new more virulent strain. Meanwhile, pertussis continues to circulate at the same level as it did prior to use of any vaccine. Boosting preschool children with pertussis vaccine has correlated with an increase in cases in adults and teens. Pertussis vaccines (DTaP) are the most frequently reported for injuries they cause to infants.
(2) Vaccines can fail. They can fail to protect entirely, or may create a weaker, false, or transient immunity – meaning that it may be easier, not harder, for diseases to spread in vaccinated populations. Flu, pertussis, pneumococcal infections, measles, mumps, and chickenpox have occurred in highly vaccinated populations. In spite of this, health officials still believe vaccines are successful, still insist unvaccinated persons in good health spread disease, and still urge us to get vaccinated! Examples:
– A study in Canada found measles outbreaks occurring in populations with over 90% vaccine compliance but sill blamed measles cases on unvaccinated persons.
– MMR vaccine failures are documented; waning immunity to measles caused by use of MMR is a frequent concern in the medical literature. Teens vaccinated as toddlers may be especially vulnerable.
– This study in the Marshall Islands decided MMR vaccine was a success even though, once again, an outbreak occurred with high vaccination compliance. Giving extra doses of vaccine was touted as the cure for the epidemic – it may have run its natural course anyway. Poor sanitation, poor nutrition, and crowding – all known factors in disease severity and transmission – may well have caused it in the first place.
– Chickenpox (Varicella) vaccine failures are noted above. Another pitfall introduced with chickenpox vaccination is the rise in shingles, a more severe and painful infection with Varicella virus that afflicts older persons. Without frequent boosting from naturally circulating chickenpox in children, older persons may suffer waning immunity to the virus, thus becoming more susceptible to shingles.
– Some argue that when data on infectious disease are juxtaposed with timelines for when vaccines were introduced, it’s noticeable: Vaccines may not have prevented much of anything. Infectious disease may have dropped mostly due to vast improvements for hygiene, nutrition, and advent of antibiotics in the twentieth century. Some infectious diseases indeed trended downward in a dramatic way, well ahead of widespread vaccination.
(3) Vaccines don’t reliably protect the herd. The mainstream medical community believes that you have been “immunized” once you develop antibodies to a disease, and that if enough people are vaccinated, “herd immunity” kicks in – that is, there are enough people with immunity to keep an outbreak from occurring. But outbreaks are documented in highly vaccinated groups – proving that vaccines don’t reliably confer herd immunity.
Flu shots are especially encouraged for anyone with a health condition that might make them more vulnerable to infection. But this may be more wishful thinking than reality, according to a prospective cohort study of 263 children that found that “children who received flu vaccine had three times the risk of hospitalization, compared to children who had not received the vaccine.” For children with asthma, the risk was worse.
(4) Vaccines contain highly toxic and highly allergenic ingredients. Read vaccine product inserts (available on line) before you go to the doctor’s office – these are lengthy documents that you might want some time to understand. The prevailing belief is that the small amounts of toxins and allergens in vaccines are safe to inject. But would you let your child lick even a tiny amount of formaldehyde? How about mercury? Many are concerned that industry interference has kept safety standards dangerously low for vaccines, and no review had been made of the cumulative effects of repeat injections.
Children who are allergic to egg or pork may need to skip flu shots, since several brands contain these. Nut oils are a controversial ingredient that manufacturers have not had to disclose to the public, under current laws protecting proprietary formulations. Mercury remains in about half of flu vaccines brands, and other shots given to kids. MSG (monosodium glutamate) is in some vaccines, so if this is an ingredient you avoid in food, you won’t want to inject it. Vaccines may also contain formaldehyde, aluminum, genetically modified viruses, yeasts, and bacteria, along with antibiotics, human tissue components (from aborted fetal tissue), and proteins or tissue components from monkeys, chickens, pigs, and cows.
(5) Deciding to defer shots? Then it’s important to keep your child’s immune system healthy. This is where nutrition can play a starring role. Children need varied diets. They should be amenable to accepting many fruits, vegetables, protein sources, and healthy fats and oils. All of these contain nutrients essential for good immune function. If your child is a picky eater who sticks to starchy processed stuff – like Goldfish crackers, sweetened yogurt, breakfast cereal, bread, and milk – you have your work cut out for you. You may need to supplement to add protective nutrients, though foods are the best sources.
– Vitamin A’s protective effect against measles and other infectious diseases is legend in public health nutrition circles, and was recently revisited in British Medical Journal. Cod liver oil at ½ to 1 teaspoon daily is an adequate amount for children in normal nutrition status. Vitamin A rich foods (or foods with lots of vitamin A precursors) are easy to get if you have a juicer or good blender. Try tomatoes, carrots, kiwi, papaya, spinach, kale, or peaches if you’re juicing. Cooked pumpkin, yams, beets, or butternut squash are good sources if you’re cooking. A pressure cooker makes this job fast and easy; baking is easy if you can plan ahead.
– Zinc and iron keep key detox and immune proteins functioning normally. Organic grass fed beef, pork, nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and spinach are good sources. If your child’s diet is void of these, have your doctor check ferritin level to see if an iron supplement is needed. Iron supplements can be poisonous, so use them only with supervision. Zinc is safe to supplement, and can be purchased in kid-friendly chewables, liquids, or teas. For children eating poor diets that lack mineral-rich foods, give 15-30 mg of zinc daily.
– Underweight children may get sick more often. If your child’s body mass index is below 13 or 14, or below the tenth percentile for his or her age, s/he may be healthier with more weight. Allow liberal servings of healthy foods and fats/oils like avocado, organic eggs, ghee (clarified butter), organic butter, olive oil, flax oil, nuts and seeds, sesame tahini, or coconut milk curries. You can check your child’s body mass index here.
– Vitamin D has an excellent track record for preventing flu and reducing incidence of complications from upper respiratory infections. Give children 1000-3000 IU daily in drops, or allow time in the sun, to get healthy doses of vitamin D.
– Remove foods that trigger wheezing, runny/stuffy nose, itchy rashes, or other signs of inflammation. Your child’s immune system will be more organized to fight true infections if allergens are off the table.
– Add a high potency probiotic – at 15 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose or higher. In my practice, some children do best at very high doses – up to 250 billion CFUs/day. This varies widely, but don’t give up on probiotics until you’ve tried a high potency blend for at least 2-3 months for your child. These not only improve digestion and protect the intestine from invading pathogens, they can help fight colds, reduce eczema, prevent flu, and lessen respiratory infections too. One of my favorites is Klaire Labs’ Prodegin, a high potency, soft chewable for children.
Poor outcomes happen to children from vaccines on a daily basis. In fact, the government has been compensating families for vaccine-triggered injuries and deaths for over twenty years. So before you let your children join the millions of students getting vaccinated for school, talk through these issues with family and health care providers. Find solutions that gift your child with good health.
Parents may not know about kids who have been called the “83 Canaries”. These are some of the children whose families have been quietly compensated by the US government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for their children’s vaccine injuries and deaths. Their parents are speaking out, and according to attorney Mary Holland at the Elizabeth Birth Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA), it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Vaccines are regarded as no less than life-granting elixirs of modern times, the dividing line between a safe and secure health trajectory for our kids, and certain death from diseases of yore. But cracks in that comfortable veneer have surely formed, giving a sense of the inevitable to what was once inconceivable. Have we tapped out the usefulness of vaccines?
Pharmaceutical industry scientist Helen Ratajczak recently spoke out – “I’m retired now. I can write what I want” – about how the MMR vaccine could in fact plausibly induce autism. CBS News recently proclaimed that the vaccine debate is far from over. Despite relentless “vaccines are safe” mantras from talking head TV doctors and government officials, parents now express more concern about vaccination than anything else at pediatric visits. In defiance of studies insisting no link exists between routine childhood vaccines and disastrous brain injuries or autism, scientists determined to be heard continue to publish findings that vaccines do cause trouble: Stuff like this retrospective that found boys were nine times more likely to end up with developmental disability when given newborn hepatitis B vaccination. Or this particularly chilling one – a prospective case controlled study in monkeys – showing the US schedule of vaccines, as is now given to our children, inducing neurological and gastrointestinal injury akin to that seen in autism, in the entire test group. Yet another chink in the vaccine armor was this analysis showing worsening infant mortality with increasing doses of vaccines.
None of these studies quibbled about mercury or aluminum, toxic heavy metals routinely added to vaccines. Both metals have checkered pasts that link them to autism and Alzheimer’s disease. Debunking efforts have stumbled here too, once the public understood that Paul Offit, poster-doc for the vaccine industry (and patent holder on vaccines himself), was touting data on kids given mercury-containing vaccines against kids given aluminum-containing vaccines. The incidence of autism in both groups was comparable – which doesn’t prove vaccines don’t cause autism, as Offit has misled millions to believe. It may simply mean that aluminum is just as potent a neurotoxin as mercury. Meanwhile, most parents (or pediatricians) don’t realize that vaccines are never tested against placebos at all. They are tested against other vaccines, an industry-friendly oddity permitted nowhere else in all of medical scientific methodology.
Adding insult to injury, one of the investigators on the CDC’s crown jewel study – commissioned to disprove the MMR-autism link – was just indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud and money laundering with funds intended for this very project. This came to light after many a harsh rebuttal to the study for its flawed methods. Last but certainly not least came the news that this study was a fix all along: E-mail communications emerged showing collusion between the CDC and study authors to obfuscate true increases in autism occurring with more mercury exposures from vaccines.
Then: In August 2014, a CDC scientist named William Thompson who reviewed data for the CDC’s “there’s no problem here” masterpiece study said this: “I’ve stopped lying.” He admitted to data manipulation, crafted a decade ago, to hide findings that autism risk more than tripled in African American boys receiving MMR vaccine on the recommended schedule.
And now this. A cluster of parents who managed to survive Vaccine Court – a little known corner of hell reserved for those whose children are injured or killed by vaccinations – have banded together to speak out. Vaccine Court is where you end up if you know enough to file a claim for a child’s vaccine injury. Since the pharmaceutical industry won itself total freedom from liability for vaccine injuries or deaths in the 1980s, and since the Supreme Court solidified this protection by removing parents’ rights to pursue civil court appeals just this year, families are left to make claims with the government when the unthinkable happens to a baby or child who is dutifully submitted for shots. Since 1986, individuals could no longer sue a pharmaceutical company or physician for an injury from a vaccination. Instead, a tax was added to the sale of each vaccine, and paid into a fund to take care of children whose families win injury claims in the vaccine court system. That is, if parents know of and pursue their rights, and if they prevail in this court system, which is not part of our usual judicial system. There are no juries, just “Special Master” judges, whose only job duty is hearing vaccine injury cases. The rules are different too – medical malpractice awards and process do not apply.
For years, at the same time we’ve heard assurances that vaccines are safe, the federal government’s Vaccine Court has quietly paid millions to families whose children suffered devastating brain injuries from routine shots. “Quiet” is the operative word here, as parent Sarah Bridges, who holds a PhD in psychology, explains: She was advised “very routinely” by her lawyer to “be careful talking about this” lest her son’s custodial funds evaporate. At risk of losing their hard won compensation, parents are now speaking out, and revealing that their children were the canaries in the coalmine. Ms. Bridges’ son for example, who is now seventeen years old, has mental retardation, epilepsy, and autism thanks to infant vaccinations, and lives in a care home wearing a diaper and a helmet thanks to the compensation program paying for it all.
This is bad news for anyone who feels unsafe without vaccines.
I don’t feel afraid without vaccines. Even with a master’s degree in public health, and years of university training in health sciences, I am relieved to see what may be a tipping point here.
Truth, ethics, and transparency have been lacking in our vaccination program. According to the this review, there is much more carnage from vaccines than we acknowledge as a society. And now it’s plain, transparency is lacking in the program that compensates our injured children too. Besides the unstoppable worries about whether vaccines are safe, we add the question: Are they really necessary? Which ones? How many? Maybe vaccines have done less than we think – and haven’t actually prevented disease much at all, as we have so enjoyed believing for almost a century.
About my training in nutrition science and practice, and public health: I noticed it sometimes fell at odds with itself. In one class I’d listen to a lecture by an epidemiologist (with a PhD) explain how fabulously successful vaccines have been in eradicating disease (I believed what I heard). In the next, I’d listen to another expert (a PhD nutritionist and registered dietitian) present how intricately connected nutrition and immune function are, especially in the first years of life. Decades of data illustrate how small shifts in a baby’s nutrition status can set up a deadly cycle of infection and more malnutrition. Plenty of pedigreed work exists to show how effective breastfeeding is at combating infectious disease exposures for infants. The stellar performance of breastfeeding for beating diarrheal diseases in infants – a top killer in the developing world – is legend in public health nutrition circles. Do we really need vaccines for this? When vaccines trigger more in chronic disease and disability than they prevent for acute infection, the risk benefit ratio has moved in the wrong direction.
Meanwhile, more integrative medicine strategies evolve every year – tools that rely less on drugs and surgery and more on whole organic foods, reduced toxins, nutraceutical strategies, or other modalities. Witness the success of vitamin D in preventing and shortening course of flu, for one small example out of hundreds, that illuminate the potential of pharmaceutical and toxin-free strategies to minimize infectious disease.
These strategies tend to be unpopular with the medical press and our government health agencies. What that means is that if the bloom is off the vaccine rose, they are going to be the last to admit it – but that’s another blog. In the meantime, be a smart health consumer for your own babies and kids. Read alternative views on vaccination, tap providers trained to engage nutrition-focused tools for healthy immune function. If you want to opt out of the vaccine schedule in whole or in part, you can
– Check your state’s mechanisms for vaccine choice by clicking here.
– Switch to a family practice physician, osteopathic doctor (DO) or a naturopath (ND), if your pediatrician is coercive about vaccines beyond your comfort level.
– Read Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free: Nutrition-Focused Tools To Minimize Meds and Maximize Health and Well Being, even if your kid isn’t diagnosed with a special need. See the chapter on avoiding infections, and the section on working with providers to help you through infections when they occur.
In my pediatric nutrition practice, moms often ask: Is it worth it to spend the extra money on organic foods and pricier supplements brands? My opinion is yes. I often witness how children respond to different foods and supplements, to cheaper brands versus brands of supplements with stricter purity standards, to shifting from processed to more whole foods.
CNN recently reported on a study published in the journal Pediatrics about children with ADHD: They found that children with ADHD were twice as likely to have higher levels of a common pesticide than children who did not have ADHD. In other words, pesticides commonly used on fruits and vegetables may contribute to ADHD prevalence in the US. Are chronic, small pesticide exposures enough to trigger ADHD in a child? Meanwhile, as any parent who has seen success with a Feingold diet knows, food colorings and preservatives of all sorts have long been suspected of triggering hyperactivity or other problems in children – see this list of 9 additives in particular that have been linked to ADHD.
That is one reason why I encourage families to buy organic foods when possible, even though they cost more. Buying locally from a trusted grower is even better – because you can actually visit or talk to that grower if you want, to see if their methods comply with organic guidelines. Another reason is because – back in 1988, when I was in graduate school – I wondered: Do organic foods have better nutrient profiles? It turns out they often do. Grain crops raised organically may have better amino acid profiles – which means that though they may have less total protein than a conventionally raised version, the protein is of better quality and more nutritious. Fruit crops show more vitamin C and antioxidants when raised organically.
Next on the list of much talked-about toxins are heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, or hexavalent chromium. These are ubiquitous in our environment. Mercury now taints many foods we eat, from high fructose corn syrup to fish. One study found that a serving of high fructose corn syrup contained half a microgram of mercury (0.5 micrograms), and estimated a potential daily mercury intake from foods at about 28 micrograms for Americans. Children and teens may eat as many as 7 tablespoons of high fructose corn syrup daily, from soft drinks, condiments, processed foods, candy, and chewable supplements. This can mean a mercury exposure of about 10 micrograms daily, just from high fructose corn syrup.
By comparison, a flu shot contains about 25 micrograms mercury; and, the EPA guidelines suggest we limit mercury exposure to 0.1 microgram per kilogram body weight daily. For a 60 pound child, that means encountering less than 3 micrograms of mercury daily. For a pregnant woman, this may mean no more than 5 micrograms of mercury exposure daily. We haven’t even talked about coal burning power plants – another mercury source – and it’s easy to see that how easy it is to surpass mercury exposure limits, depending on what we eat.
Lately the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics have had renewed interest in lead screening for children. Over the years, the level of lead in blood deemed acceptable by these agencies has repeatedly dropped – meaning, there is no safe level of exposure to this neurotoxin, second only to mercury on the list of heavy metals with potential for neurotoxic effects. Lead is a common contaminant in supplements. This is an especially big concern for children who have poor iron status, because those children will absorb more lead than kids in healthy iron status. These metals compete for absorption, and lead is readily taken up by the body in lieu of iron, when iron is not adequately situated in cells and tissues that need it. Lead exposures early on can permanently impair IQ and learning ability.
What about arsenic? From chickens and eggs to playground equipment, arsenic has been found in places our kids go and foods they eat. It may contaminate supplements too, along with pesticide residues and a form of chromium called hexavalent chromium, or Cr-6 for short. Chromium in its “trivalent” form is essential to humans – without it, we can’t regulate blood sugar normally. But in the hexavalent form, it’s highly toxic and known carcinogen, as anyone who has seen the movie Erin. A Consumer Labs review of some supplements found hexavalent chromium contaminants.
Just like the food industry, the supplement industry is challenging for the FDA to adequately monitor, and may not have purity guidelines as strict as parents would like. It often falls on the manufacturer to self-impose strong standards for a product’s purity and potency. But you do have the ultimate power, in your wallet. Buy only what you feel is best for your family’s health and well being. Compare purity standards among supplement manufacturers. If you’re not sure, ask for info from the manufacturer. If you’re not satisfied, move on. In Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, I devote a chapter on “Know Before You Buy” to help families understand differences in purity standards for supplements. Now that I’m done giving you the bad news, here’s the good news on what you can do:
1 – Know your growers. Eat organic and locally sourced meats, eggs, dairy, fruits, and vegetables when possible, given your budget. Check LocalHarvest.org for an organic grower near you.
2 – Grow a garden this year. Start planning now for your kitchen garden, whether it’s herbs on your windowsill, cherry tomatoes in patio crocks, or more in a small patch in the yard. Easy crops for beginners are lettuce, pole beans, bell peppers, carrots, or herbs. You’ll know exactly what you’re eating!
3 – When buying supplements, demand the best. Compare purity standards, which vary based on a manufacturer’s commitment to quality. For example, fish oils should be strictly mercury free; calcium supplements should be rigorously screened for lead and other contaminants; probiotics should guarantee potency; any supplement should be free of pesticide contaminants, and fillers with no function.
4 – And, just because a supplement is costlier, it may not be better. Ask the manufacturer what toxins they screen their products for, and how. Transparency is the key – if you are told this is proprietary, it may be wise to choose another product.
When do kids need supplements?
If you’re reading this, then you have probably already discovered, hopefully with some guidance from your team of health care providers, that your child has a nutrition problem. Or maybe you’ve come to suspect there’s a deficit for some nutrients in your child. Should you fix it with a supplement? Does that work? What’s the best way to use those?
These are important questions for children with special needs like diabetes, food allergies, asthma and inflammatory conditions, developmental concerns like Down’s syndrome or autism spectrum disorders, inherited metabolic disorders, seizures, or growth and feeding problems. As many as 60% of children with special needs have nutrition problems that can potentially impair their functioning, learning, growth, or development (1). It has been known for decades that keeping children well nourished, whether they have special needs or not, helps them reach their functional potential, by supporting learning, growth, and development.
Supplements may fit into this, and part of my job as a pediatric dietitian is figuring out if, when, and how they do. This is something to discern based on individualized nutrition assessment. I take into account several pieces: Medical history, signs and symptoms, a food diary, a child’s growth history, circumstances of the child’s gestational period, delivery, and early infancy, and so on. The last piece to fill in the blanks would be lab data, because lab data alone can’t describe a child’s nutrition status. Here are some tips to help you use supplements more effectively. More tips are in my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right (2009, Penguin/Perigee) which you can pick up in most bookstores or libraries, or order via your favorite on line bookseller.
– Kids need food! In fact, they need much more food per pound than adults. If an adult were to eat what a toddler needs per pound, that adult would need 8,000-10,000 calories per day just to maintain normal weight. Giving lots of supplements without enough food means your child will probably not be able to use those supplements as intended. So, before buying supplements, do the footwork to give your child adequate and nutritious foods. How to do this for picky eaters with special needs is covered in Special Needs Kids Eat Right.
– Supplements don’t fix problems caused by inadequate food intake in kids. Anxiety, insomnia, irritability, rage/reactivity, behavior, low muscle tone, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, frequency of infections or illnesses, and school performance are all affected by total food intakes in children. Give a balance of healthy fats and oils, clean carbohydrates that aren’t too sugary, and easy to digest proteins every day.
– If you’ve been given a list of supplements to buy based on lab results, beware. Giving a pill for each lab finding out of reference range is a cumbersome, ineffective strategy, in my experience. For nutrition interventions to work well, children need the right amount of food, foods they can digest well, and good digestion and absorption. Your provider can help you assess whether your child needs to repair digestion and absorption before giving supplements.
– Rule out bowel infections in your child with your health care provider before beginning a complex supplement regimen. Remember, whatever you feed your child will be eaten by his resident bowel bacteria first. New research is emerging to describe how important this bowel flora can be – from helping us prevent inflammatory conditions (2), to encoding our own GI tracts with the skill to make digestive enzymes (3). Other research shows that unhealthy bowel bacteria can impact behavior or even seizures in children (4, 5) – making it all the more crucial to balance this piece before using supplements that might “fertilize” the wrong bowel flora.
Those are just a few reasons why supplements need to be worked into a total care plan for your child, rather than given without thoughtful strategy. Work with your health care providers to get it right; given in the right total context, the right supplements can work very well for children. If you need more help and information, contact me or schedule an appointment at NutritionCare.net.
1. Nutrition In The Prevention and Treatment of Disease, 2nd ed. Ann Coulston and Carol Boushey, Eds. Elsevier Academic Press. Burlington, MA and London, UK: 2008
2. Maslowski KM et al. Regulation of inflammatory responses by gut microbiota and chemoattractant receptor GPR43. Nature 2009 Oct 29;461(7268):1282-6.
3. Hehemann JH et al. Transfer of carbohydrate-active enzymes from marine bacteria to Japanese gut microbiota Nature 2010 April 8;464 (7269):908-912
4. MacFabe DF et al. Neurobiological effects of intraventricular propionic acid in rats: Possible role of short chain fatty acids on the pathogenesis and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders Behavioural Brain Research 2007;176:149–169
5. Herawati R et al. Colony count candida albicans of stool in autism spectrum disorders. Clinical Pathology and Medical Laboratory, Airlangga University E-Journal 13(1):November-2006