Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Journey Through The Digestive System

Digestive Wellness for Children – Chapter 3

DIGESTION. In very basic terms, the digestive system is a 25+ foot tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the rectum. It includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and large intestine. It is the basis for the body’s nutrient supply system – turn food into particles the cells can use for energy, maintenance, repair, growth – and a block, malfunction or failure in one part impedes the effectiveness everything downstream. We never really think much about our digestive system, unless we have a problem.

MOUTH. It is an amazing, intricate system. It actually starts with our mouth and how well we chew! Foods need to be broken into small particles, not swallowed as large chunks, so that enzymes can later finish breaking them down.

ESOPHAGUS AND STOMACH. The esophagus is a tube that takes food from the mouth down to the stomach. In the stomach hydrochloric acid (HCI), enzymes, and the contractions of the stomach work to kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning, break protein bonds and begins breaking down fats. The stomach has completed its job when food is liquefied into chyme.

SMALL INTESTINE. Averaging around 17 feet long, if stretched, the small intestine in the primary area where absorption of nutrients takes place. However, that isn’t all that takes place – a lot happens in the small intestine. Digestion of food is completed and nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream. It also blocks the absorption of harmful things like chemicals, large food particles, etc. Also in the small intestine are billions of beneficial microbes that are critical to general health and to a strong immune system. 70% of the immune system is located in the gut.

PANCREAS, LIVER, AND GALLBLADDER. These organs all play a role in the digestive system. The pancreas although often thought of in its role of balancing blood sugars also plays key roles in digestion and absorption of nutrients through the production of enzymes.

The liver creates bile to emulsify fats, breaks down hormones, is critical in the processing of nutrients, chemicals, and drugs that are in the blood, determining which to keep, which to change, and which to eliminate. If the liver is congested, these functions can be greatly compromised.

The gallbladder stores bile for when a supply is needed. Bile emulsifies fats and breaks down fat soluble vitamins.

LARGE INTESTINE. The large intestine is primarily responsible for reabsorbing water back into the body and eliminating waste. Like the small intestine it contains beneficial microbes, necessary for health, digestion, disease protection, and the production of certain vitamins. The main issues to be aware of with the colon are frequency of movement and transit time. Ideally, you should have two to three bowel movements a day. And food should take between 12 and 24 hours from mouth to elimination. Anything less (diarrhea) or more (constipation) will have effects on health.

MY COMMENTS. The digestive system is a critical basis for health. The simplest things can make big differences – chewing food well (drink your food and chew you drinks!), taking digestive enzymes or eating raw foods, making sure the gut bacteria is balanced with beneficial bacteria, keeping the liver decongested.

For all children with multiple allergies, and for a huge percentage of autistic children, the health of the digestive system is the key to reversing the issues, particularly regaining the functioning of the small intestine and enzymes. At least 70% of the immune system is in the gut, specifically the small intestine. One of the common supplements used for autistic kids is L-glutamine, one of the reasons is because the small intestine uses L-glutamine (an amino acid) to repair itself and for energy. The small intestine is also where yeast starts to overgrow and can create leaky gut syndrome, a huge issue for many of these kids, but more about that in a couple of weeks.

Elimination is also key. These kids are sick because they are toxic. They have to eliminate toxins. The 4 avenues of elimination are: the lungs, the skin, the colon, and the urinary system. As relates to the digestive system, toxic kids need a decongested liver and bowels that move regularly. The liver needs to be able to filter the toxins out and the bowel needs to get rid of them, otherwise the toxins just keep recirculating.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chemicals & Convenience: Consumer Be Aware! (Chapter 2)

Digestive Wellness for Children - Chapter 2

“Today, not a single child is born free of synthetic chemicals.” – Bill Moyer, PBS Documentary Trade Secrets

89% of ingredients used in personal-care products have not been evaluated for safety by the CIR, the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution.

FOOD. We used to eat foods that we hunted or grew, in season. Now we get foods shipped from all over the world, available all seasons, frozen, canned, irradiated, genetically modified, and microwaved. Nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and enzymes are killed or taken out to extend shelf-life. Preservatives and other additives are put in. The average American eats 14 pounds of additives per year! Before all that is done to it, it’s sprayed with pesticides!

Microwaving and Irradiation. They both change food the content and composition of food. Microwaving has shown to change the structural make up of the food in ways that conventional cooking does not change it. Irradiation uses nuclear waste materials to extend self-life and to kill all bacteria on food, however it also destroys much of the vitamin content and leaves food containing carcinogenic molecules.

Genetically Modified Foods. This involves changing the seed, altering the genetic makeup of food for purposes such as to resist herbicide so it can be sprayed and not die, among other things. Other countries have cried out and labeling is required. In the US labeling is not required. If you eat anything with corn or soy or their derivatives, unless it is organically grown, it is probably genetically modified. These crops were first developed in the mid-1990’s, the long-term consequences are unknown.

“The life in food gives us life. Once a plant is picked…a grain split…it begins to lose its enzymatic activity.” Processed foods no longer contain these enzymes. Whole foods in balance as in nature, will benefit us.

ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURES. Environmental toxins pose a serious health issue with the EPA citing 50,000 synthetic chemicals dispersed into our environment, many with interfere with the body’s functioning. Children facing the largest risks because they are exposed to more chemicals relative to their weight than adults, they absorb more and eliminate less. A study found an average of 200 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord tissue of newborns.

Heavy Metals. “A child’s nervous system begins forming long before birth, as embryonic neurons branch out and make the connections that transport information to and from the brain and body…The neural pathways formed in your child’s first three years of life are the basis for his/her ability to learn and develop; during this time, exposure to heavy metals can have significant, detrimental consequences.” High levels of metals such as lead and mercury have been found in children with autism, ADD, and learning problems. Although still an issue, lead is becoming less of a problem, because of active campaigns to remove it from products, while mercury remains serious danger from fish, vaccinations, dental amalgams, and coal-powered fuel plants. It has serious ramifications for neurological development and readily passes through the placenta into the fetus.

PERSONAL-CARE AND HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS. Consider what is in these products. We assume that they have been tested for safety, but only a small portion of the 75,000 chemicals registered with EPA have been tested. Again, children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of these chemicals than adults are.

MY COMMENTS. Foods, as close to how God created them as possible, are the best for us. He put things in food and created the balance our bodies need. When we mess with that, our health suffers. Whether it’s pesticides, genetic modification, irradiation, adding things, taking away things, homogenizing, microwaving – they all alter what God created. It’s the simplest healthy diet principle I’ve found – eat it how God made it, or as close to it as possible. For more information look at my Nutrition page.

Environmental Exposures. With a very sensitive child with autism, I nearly drove myself crazy trying to stay away from all environmental toxins. I quickly leaned it’s not possible. So I control and limit the exposure to what I can and what would be the most frequent exposures – water (purified, not just filtered), personal care products (the ingredients read like a recipe), fragrances and perfumed things (only essential oils in this house!), cleaners/detergents (all non-toxic, many made from what’s in my kitchen), no pharmaceuticals (only herbs and things), vaccines (nope), yard insecticides (dichotomous earth), pots/pans/baking/grilling/leftover storage (stainless steel, stone, glass or ceramic), sunscreen, bug spray, pools, the list goes on…slowly but surely we’ve converted so much of our house. There’s more we could do, there always will be. For more information look at my Toxicity page. To look up the toxicity or safety of specific  body care products go to Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Database.

Why is this so important for autistic children? They are already toxic, with more burden than their bodies can eliminate (that’s why they have issues). It’s crucial to limit the amount toxicity being added, so that their bodies can eliminate (with extra help) what has already accumulated. If, instead, more toxicity is piled on, the body cannot heal. For more information look at my Causes and Treatment page.

It became so routine to scrutinize everything for chemical safety, I didn’t realize how aware of it I was. One day as we were leaving the zoo, I was several steps behind the boys and the nice gate lady stamped their hands. I saw it coming, I started to leap ahead to say, “NOOOO.” But it was too late. I stopped myself before my yell erupted. Although my internal anger did flash at that lady who just put toxic chemicals on my son!!! I realized in that moment how careful I had been about everything that went in, touched, or was present in my son’s environment. I was acutely aware of how every little thing affected his health. The thing is, it is true for all of us, just not to the same degree. These chemicals do affect our health, it just may take longer and manifest differently. It may not even be us that see the effects of our choices, it may be our children or grandchildren as some of these chemicals alter the health and structure of our genes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sorry Sweetie, You're Allergic: Explaining Allergies To Children

A very difficult part of food allergies or autism, if you are sticking to a diet, is explaining to the child that they can't eat what someone, or everyone, else is eating. As every child is different, I'm sure ways of explaining and what works will be different as well. I'll share what has worked for us.

For foods that he has an obvious reaction to such as dairy, which results in stomach pains and vomiting, it's not too difficult. "Sorry sweetie, that makes you sick; but this doesn't you may have this."

Foods that may not have such an obvious reaction can be a bit more difficult. For us, gluten is the most difficult to explain. It doesn't make him physically sick, in fact there are no signs of it bothering him, except that after weeks of eating it, he struggles with his speech and his communication abilities greatly diminish. When it is removed from his diet, 3 weeks later he is speaking great again. Because he wants to eat some of the other things that have an obvious reaction, I have explained that we are working to help his body heal, so someday he can eat those things.  When he wants to eat something with gluten (or junk food that he isn't allergic to) in it, instead of explaining that it will make him sick - because one of these days he'll try it and happily tell me that, "It doesn't make me sick!" when he doesn't see any affect from eating it - I explain that, "It isn't good for your body and won't help your body heal."  He often replies, "But, when my body is healed, I'll be able to have it?" Depending on what the item is, makes a difference in my answer. If it's healthy, I'll say, " Yes, when your body has healed, you'll be able to eat it." If it's not healthy, I'll say, "Yes, someday you may be able to eat it, but it still won't be good for you."

It has been my experience that helping him understand that certain foods make him sick or prevent his body from healing has really helped with him wanting foods he can't have and accepting an suitable alternative. I also always keep something he can eat in my purse - a Larabar or dehydrated fruit strip. Even if he can't have what everyone else is having, at least he can have something that he likes very much.

Digestive Wellness For Children - Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Our Kids: Overfed and Undernourished

The focus of this chapter revolves around lifestyle challenges parents face, particularly in the area of what we eat. What is normal today is actually causing us to be unhealthy: fast food, processed food, and refined sweeteners.

We are eating a lot of food, but not getting the nutrients our bodies need. The average person gets 50% of daily calories from high calorie, low nutrient foods. Even when we eat “healthy” foods, they aren’t what they used to be in terms of nutrient density. For example, broccoli has only half the amount of calcium it had 50 years ago. Cauliflower has 40% the vitamin C.

The biggest issue is the food choices we make. Foods like soft drinks and refined sugar consume minerals from the body and do not add any to it. Minerals are critical for the functioning of the body from the operation of the cell and bone strength, to nerve, brain and muscle function. Eating out has surpassed home cooking as the option of choice for food. We spend $110. billion on fast foods, where we spent $6 billion in 1970.

Our bodies are made up of the things we eat. If we don’t eat the nutrients that fuel our bodies, deficiencies show up, manifesting first as things like irritability, lack of attention, mood swings. Is it surprising us that 20% of children have learning and behavior problems?

What Do We Eat per Person per Year? (Statistics from the USDA, 2001)
  • 142 pounds of caloric sweeteners
    • corn sweeteners (79.2 pounds/person) –increased significantly from previous usage
    • beet and cane sugar (61 pounds/person) –dropped significantly from previous usage
  • 24.3 gallons of coffee
  • 87.9 pounds of added fats and oils – 32.5 pounds of hydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 26.7 quarts of ice cream sherbet, frozen yogurt, and ice milk
  • 25.1 gallons of alcohol – 21.6 as beer
  • 46.4 gallons of soft drinks
  • 4.2 pounds of potato chips
  • 22 pounds of candy
  • 38 donuts

My Comments:
Food is the area that I think is one of the hardest for people to change. We love our food. We eat for pleasure and comfort. Certain foods are connected with special events. And, we are so pressed for time, convenience becomes critical. Whatever the reason, what we eat is a very personal issue and is difficult to change because we don’t want to change, we like our food and the convenience. To change involves sacrifice. Yet, if we don’t give some things up and start eating differently from the standard American diet (SAD) eventually we will become sick, especially our kids because they likely never had a good nutritional foundation. When we begin to think of everything we eat as moving us toward health or away from it, it can make the choices and changes easier.

This strikes at the heart of autism and allergies. Anything nutrient deficient does not move my son toward health. Anything processed - hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, corn sweeteners, antibiotic and hormone laden meat, food colors - they all work to damage his body further rather than toward restoring healthy function. We have stayed far away from these things and have worked to feed him excellent nutrition, seeing everytime he takes a bite as an opportunity to give his body vitamins, minerals, fats, etc that he needs. We are are seeing great results (with additional supplementation, of course. When the bank account of nutrients is so extremely deficient it needs some major deposits)!