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
Orange and purple. Pumpkins, Frankenstein, cute goblins. It’s Halloween. When I was a kid, October was my favorite month. Not only did it bring my birthday (still does), it felt like the most fun time of the year to me. Hurtling around outdoors with neighborhood friends on blustery, chilly fall days was my idea of heaven. We spent hours unsupervised and untracked, roaming woods and fields, and playing til our fingers were so cold it was just time to go in. New England’s blaze of colors was my backdrop. Leaf forts, leaf piles, leaf-filled scarecrows with my dad’s old clothes. Carving pumpkins, coloring decorations. Costumes, candy, staying out late to trick or treat.
It’s so different now, as kids spend less time outdoors with unstructured activities, and trick or treat traditions have faded out as we’ve become a more fearful society. Even less of this autumn joy might apply for kids with autism, sensory processing disorders, epilepsy and seizures – not to mention food allergies. It’s bad enough that this can be a traumatic week for kids on the autism spectrum and special needs. Routines and rules run amok (see Autism and Halloween: A Sometimes Scary Mix with Kim Stagliano). Behavior norms that parents work all year to teach their kids on the spectrum flip upside down. At Halloween, for some kids, confusion and anxiety mount as there are treats you can’t eat, and it’s loud, and random. But I’ve learned of news this week weirder than any Halloween trick, news that makes the autism journey at this time of year even stranger for me as a clinician. It’s called Purple Crying.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics are putting some spin together to convince new families, obstetrics nurses, and NICU staff nationwide that it’s normal to have a screaming, trembling newborn. And that colic is a “a normal developmental phase, not a medical condition”. It actually says that on the Purple Crying website – yes, there is a Purple Crying Website.
Here we have a well funded effort afoot to systematically rework your thinking on this, right down to giving CDs about it to new parents, to take home with the new baby. The tag line on all this sends chills down my spine: “A new way to understand your baby’s crying”.
I did not understand my son’s crying as a neonate. Though the Purple Crying site does not intend to say purple babies are happy babies, my son’s crying turned him purple, and blue, and even left him unconscious for fleeting moments. It rocked his body into spasms. It kept him awake for as much as twenty straight hours, unhealthy and extremely costly for a newborn, who must eat and rest a lot, in order to survive. His limbs quivered, shook, and straightened. Yes, we called the doctor. Yes, we went to the emergency room. No, the physicians did not do anything. In fact, they were annoyed with us, because my son’s diagnostics were inconclusive. Once there were no clear test results, we went from being treated as proactive smart parents to being treated as nervous foolish parents. I should count my lucky stars: Nowadays, this scenario might land me in jail. I would be scrutinized for shaking him, in the absence of a clear cause for his symptoms. As it turned out, his symptoms were caused by an adverse event to newborn heptatitis B vaccine. But nobody told us that. We didn’t even know he’d been vaccinated in the nursery at birth. But that’s another story.
Prolonged, inconsolable screaming and crying is a serious sign of distress for an infant. It is a common feature of an adverse vaccine reaction. Is this what the purple crying public relations campaign is really about? CYA for the CDC? Like this: Your baby is suffering, maybe from a poorly tolerated vaccine we want you to use, so just ignore the crying, please.
Well, okay. Let’s acquiesce that babies can just plain cry their nuts off, boys and girls alike, for no particular reason, through the first three or five months of life, and it’s all right. Let’s make that leap of faith, and presume that we evolved to cry for no reason. We somehow got to the twenty first century, and never noticed this about human infants (but not other mammals?). Let’s presume screaming for hours on end is simply not related to a possible vaccine reaction (that may trigger lasting developmental effects, by the way), or any sort of painful inflammatory response to anything in shots or foods. Besides, the CDC reassures us that babies can look like they are in pain when they are screaming, but they’re not. Amazing creatures – they can do this for hours a day, and it’s fine. If you saw a newborn deer shrieking ceaselessly, would you think it was not in pain? Or that it was behaving “normally”?
I hate it when the CDC contradicts itself, and they’re doing it again. Here’s why this is not fine. First, obviously, it is not fine to tell parents to ignore possible signs of a vaccine adverse event. Second, for newborns, crying is exquisitely spendy. So is insomnia. It is not safe, normal, or healthy for young infants to spend hours awake and crying, week after week. Newborns are growing so fast, they need to eat two to three times more calories per pound than older kids and adults, just to stay alive. If you ate what a newborn needed, and you weighed 150 lbs, you would need to eat about 8500 calories/day just for baseline wellness. Add screaming all day and never sleeping to that, and, well, how long could you last? Just breathing inefficiently or suckling poorly can cost a newborn precious small gains in weight at the the start of life, if energy balance skews week after week into the red. This lowers nutrition status, and that in turn lowers disease resistance. Nutrition status directly correlates with immune function. Why is the CDC saying it’s okay for babies to endure something that threatens their ability to fight infection?
My next family arrives for consult in about thirty minutes. Was their nine year old child one of the “purple criers”? After taking nutrition histories on special needs children for eleven years, I have noticed that they usually are. They usually have more difficulty than their typical siblings did as infants, with screaming, crying, colic, and the orange part of this post: Explosive, copious, loose, orange-gold stools. These often fill the baby’s diaper, pants, and shirt. Stool to the neck and ankles, three or four, maybe even eight or nine times a day. My pediatrician back in 1997 did not say it was normal for my son to have bowel movements like that. But he did tell me it was probably coming from my son’s diaper (no joke – see this memoir I published on this back in 2002). Here in my office, too many years later, pediatricians are still giving parents some peculiar feedback on this: Now it’s “toddler diarrhea”, and it’s “normal”.
No folks, purple crying and orange poop are not normal or benign. My clinical observation is this: The more purple and orange there is in a child’s history from age 0-3, the more developmentally delayed, disabled, or challenged with inflammatory conditions the child is later on. These colors may haunt these kids for years, with lasting inflammation, developmental impacts, learning problems, or growth problems.
Colic is not a “developmental phase”. Colic is often milk or soy protein intolerance, and it is painful. This pain is avoidable, much of the time. Food protein intolerance is not the only reason why an infant would cry, but it does account for a lot of colic in babies. It has been over-treated with reflux medications or drops to reduce gas. I give this topic a lot of ink in Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, and in this blog too. Please don’t start believing that in addition to regarding it as normal for your child to have crazy explosive poop several times a day, it’s normal for your baby to scream in pain for hours on end, months at a time.
When I was trained in public health nutrition and completing rotations as a dietitian, I never heard the phrase “toddler diarrhea”. It is now so common, no one blinks as children struggle through infancy and toddlerhood without potty training until they’re four years or older, stop growing as expected, or develop multiple food allergies and asthma. For kids with autism, it’s practically a rite of passage – often one that never ends: I have ten year olds with autism in my practice who can’t potty train, who struggle with impactions and constipation so bad they need regular hospital admissions for clean outs, and school aged kids with ADHD who can’t join sleepovers because they still wet the bed and have stooling accidents at school on a daily basis. Maybe the CDC will join up with the American Academy of Pediatrics to call this normal too. There will be a website, a CD from your pediatrician, a TV ad campaign. Followed by, no doubt, the drug of choice to fix it (mostly, it’s Miralax – another over-prescribed, non-FDA-approved-for-kids drug).
Here’s to young parents out there who are too smart to go there. Listen to your instincts and make safe choices around your child’s health care. Keep orange and purple for the fun parts of Halloween, not the horrors that can haunt your children for years.