Monday, November 23, 2009

I only have a moment tonight. But I want to post a tidbit from a current read: "Our Stolen Future" by Colborn, Dumanoski and Myers.
On pg 191-192, they are discussing the potential effects of PCBs in contaminated fish on children whose parents ate said fish. A psychologist named Helen Daly has been studying behavioral changes in rats fed Lake Ontario fish. The expected results of her test (which involved feeding a small group of rats a diet 30% fish) was that the diet would turn them into dummies. It would affect their brains and intelligence level. This seems a plausible expectation for the consumption of toxic chemicals.
However, they found behavioral changes that were unexpected. While there were no signs of learning deficits, indicating that intelligence levels were not adversely effected, the rats showed distinct behavioral changes. Standard testing showed decreased activity.
This behavioral change has been demonstrated repeatedly.
Rats fed a diet of 30% contaminated fish (fish that have been raised in Lake Ontario) over react to even mildly negative situations. Daly describes them as "Hyper-reactive". When comparing hteir reactions to humans, Daly is quoted as stating "Every little stress will be magnified."
Some studies done on children with high known levels of exposure have indicated a possible correlation to human experience.

Does this remind anyone else of Sensory Processing/Integration Disorders? Or Highly Sensitive Children?

PCBs aren't only found in fish. They were used as plasticizing agents in paint, flexible plastic coating for electrical wires, caulking agents, dusting products, flame retardants, adhesives and pesticide extenders. They do not degrade readily, so are still present in our environment. They tend to accumulate in lakes and rivers, where they bind with plant life and are consumed by sea life. The higher the animal on the food chain, the higher the concentration of PCBs and other chemical contaminants. (Interesting side note: PCB production was taken over in 1929 by non other than our beloved Mons*nto, the GM corn giants.)

One of Daly's most disturbing findings is that pcb effects are seen in second generation rats. So if rat generation A eats PCB laden fish, generation B is affected, but fed only a carefully monitored diet of PCB free fish, the researchers are still seeing abnormal reactions in generation C.

In other words, what scientists unleashed on our grandparents is haunting us today. What we do with our bodies, wittingly or unwittingly, will continue to affect our grandchildren regardless of whether we are here to play a part in it.

Of course, this has nothing to do with corn. But it's interesting all the same.
In the end it's still just stress. Stress on our environment, stress on our bodies, stress on our children. However, these studies show that somehow we may be inhibiting their inborn ability to handle stressful situations.

This isn't an answer. But it sure seems like a significant piece of many puzzles our society faces.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in a label?

My daughter Bumblebee is...intense.

She's always been exceptional. Exceptionally sweet. Exceptionally loud. Exceptionally shy. Exceptionally quiet. Exceptionally precious.

When she was 2 ish, we went to the doctor for some run of the mill cold. She was terrified, and turned off. I was irritated with her. He suggested an evaluation for autism.

I struggled with the thought, the number for First 5 California in my hand. But as I snuggled her close and held a 2 sided conversation with her about the incident, I felt that autism was way too extreme. Out of the question.

My child was shy, that's all.

When she buried her head in my lap after racing off the playground with a high pitched scream because 2 other kids appeared on the monkey bars, I felt a fluttering of concern. But a label?
Our next discussion with the doctor left me thinking she was just special. Shy.

Yes, shy. Shy was a good label.

When she collapsed in the middle of a new gymnastics class, carefully covering her head so she couldn't make eye contact with the coaches or the helpers (who promptly chased me down in the parking lot, to return and sit through the next 8 "No parents allowed under any circumstances" classes) I shook my head. She's exceptionally shy. But special, we all agreed. There's something about her.

Discussion with the doctor left us reassured. Sure, there's something. There's something about everyone. She's shy, obviously. We could look for another label. But is it worth it? Labels tend to follow children. They set them up for expectations in school. They can leave the kids giving up on themselves. Labels lead to medication. What did we want in a label? What we were doing was obviously working. And she was sure to outgrow it.

When she started Kindergarten, our hearts soared. She came home grinning and full of stories (we later learned her part was played much differently than the version we heard from her, but hey...they were great stories)
They plummeted as soon as she tired out and began crying. When she'd cried for a week straight questions arose.

We ruled out bullying, abuse (I'm still smarting from the inquisition of my older daughter, although she didn't know what the implications were. Of course, we had the same questions to rule out about school personnel, so how offended can I be?) and physical issues. Her teacher was a saint who'd loved her since her sister was in Kindergarten 4 years previously. That left...something. Our combined patience would have impressed Job himself.

Again, the doctor's "We should think about evaluating her, have we talked about autism?" comment haunted me. Millions of teen-mom talks returned to replay themselves in my head (and I wasn't quite a teen mom. More of a college mom. I was 24 when Bumblebee made her appearance. But around here, that's early.) All those red flags I'd been ignoring jumped out and flapped in my face. Something was WRONG.

By May, she needed to be restrained so I could leave the premises. However, we all agreed that giving in and keeping her home was not the right course of action. She's bright. She reads ahead of her age level, her math skills are excellent, her comprehension on track or above. She had friends. She was grinning after school each day. Her only complaint about school was that it was too long and didn't have enough learning. But she'd cry in anticipation of my leaving.
Starting the night before.

The only diagnosis we could get was anxiety, with a question mark. It was out of her pediatrician's comfort zone, our insurance sucks and we waited for our last hope...the school counselor.
She agrees. There's...something.

But labels follow a child.
Labels set a child up for preconceived notions.
What would we really want from a label? What could it offer that we aren't getting now?
Although she's struggling, whatever we're doing is definitely working. She's doing "better". She's just...crying sometimes. And screaming. Melting down on occasion. Without a reward. We're doing the "right things".
A label might tell us why they don't work the way we want. But it isn't going to help the right things work any better.
And do we really want to resort to medication? Because that's where labels lead.


No we don't want to resort to meds. No we don't think they're necessary. No, we don't need a label.

We thought we'd hit on something after reading "The Unhealthy Truth" and eliminated food dyes. And yes, food dye definitely impacts her anxiety. A candy cane recently set off the entire "You hate me, you hate me, you hate me! Stop hating me! Stop yelling!" routine when I said a simple "Hey sleepy head, it's time for school!" They handed them out in girl scouts the night before, and I wasn't thinking.

But the fussing, the morning foot-dragging, the begging after school for a quiet day with no play dates and no carpool driving, the insistence on "Please let me stay home, I can call you. I know how to dial the phone, and I can call the police, too, if the house burns down or somebody breaks in." The refusal to go to a park, or the toy store, sometimes even a birthday party. It's wearing on me. And making me think again, there's something missing.

I don't want to label her.

But as our neighbor child watches with wide eyes and asks me in a stage whisper "What is wrong with her? That's not normal." I have to think again about labels.

They may set kids up.
But they also let parents off the hook.

A normal child would never get away with the fits Bumblebee throws. But I have to balance the screaming with the fact that she holds my hand and hasn't thrown herself into the street or the fact that she's aiming her feet at her mattress, not her sister, not her friends, not her mom, not even the window. She isn't pulling things off the shelves. And if I reprimand her, she will. Not because she wants to be destructive, but because she's out of control. She's out of control, and scared. My job is to reassure her, protect her from herself as well as the people in the area who are judging and offering their two cents, or worse--intervening.

Labels are answers. Even if they don't mean anything, if I could explain the tantrum with a roll of my eyes, an apologetic smile and "Generalized Anxiety Disorder" or "Sensory processing issues" or even if she were "on the spectrum," No one would even have to know what I meant. They'd just accept it and nod knowingly, walk away.

It's not even something that happens very often, but when it does...I realize that labels do have a place. Even if it's just for parental piece of mind.
Sometimes I wish we'd gone that route.
But when it comes to parenting, I won't have the answers for another 20 years. And even then, I'll only know I took the right path if my kids decide to tell me I did. I can only hope I don't look back and know it was the wrong one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Online Safety

I have an 11 year old dd. She is not allowed free realm on the computer. I monitor her email, her surfing, her homework site, her online gaming site (which is protected so that kids can't inadvertently share any identifying information)

However, she has a life outside of electronics.

After school, she went to an activity as usual. During this activity, there is lots of downtime for homework or reading. She reads. An acquaintance was playing with their DS. Penguin was called over when said acquaintance hissed "Hey, Penguin, what school do you go to?"

She answered. Then was told that "this guy" in a chat room "knows her".

The chat went something like "OMG, so do you guys know (insert popular nickname)"
"You mean (insert last name)"
"Yeah, I went to like preschool with her. Where does she go now?"

They exchanged the names of several kids in the activity, and clarified when it ended in case he wanted to meet them. He didn't show up.

She has been informed that she is to remain glued to the instructor until an adult she knows (carpool driver) arrives to pick her up, regardless of anyone knowing her name. She isn't even to go to the bathroom alone after this.

But what bothers me most is that the instructors aren't concerned. The other parents I know at first were amused until I pointed out that mystery-kid didn't share any identifying info. He just claimed to know the other kids, by using common first names and nicknames. He was given first and last names of class participants, schools attended and the time frame they are least supervised. And everyone, including the parents, think it's cool. (Put this way, they no longer think it's cute and a whole lot of other kids are getting a talk about online safety, and how it extends to any text message setting.)

Most likely it was a real kid. Sitting, waiting for a parent or sibling, bored out of his mind.

But what if it wasn't?

It's frightening to think how easily all this info was gleaned from kids. How anxious they were to share. Penguin has been given a quick, prettied up (but scary enough for her to listen) lesson in reality. There are bad people out there. If you can't see someone, you don't know if they're boy, girl woman or man. And you don't know how old they are. In the words of an old online friend, I'd much rather hug my child as I tell her a story I don't want her to hear, than hold her (or worse, not hold her) while I listen to a real life nightmare unfold.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Gluten Free really Healthier?

The new "fad diet"; Gluten free! Is it really healthier?

There seems to be a lot of confusion. Whole foods offers healthy options. Whole foods offers organic produce. Whole foods offers eco friendly products. Whole Foods also offers Gluten Free goodies. Therefore; gluten free is healthy for everyone, right?

Well, maybe. But simply eating gluten free products isn't necessarily healthy for anyone (Celiac patients included!)

As we've covered before, gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. For people with Celiac Disease, it causes an immune response which damages the intestines. This is serious...without the little villi in your intestinal walls, you don't digest your food properly. Which means, you can get malnourished.

Some people are simple sensitive to gluten. And with all the research going on, some people wonder if gluten is good for anyone. Others are concerned because a gluten free diet appears limiting. Could it possibly be safe to give up wheat?

The thing is, our society relies too heavily on grains. It's not unusual for the typical American to eat a bowl of wheat cereal with some toast, snack on a bagel, eat a sandwich for lunch, some pizza and salad with croutons for dinner, wash it down with a handful of cookies and call it a relatively rounded diet. In fact, they just ate several days' worth of gluten (and corn) with a bit of veggie and meat thrown in for flavor.

If you eat the typical American fare, and simply substitute your bread for a gluten free variety your pocketbook is going to take a serious hit. Your body won't thank you much, either. Gluten free baking relies on a variety of starches and sugars to create an acceptable mouthfeel, and please our tastebuds. In some ways, a slice of gluten free white bread isn't nearly as healthy as a slice of whole grain wheat. (Unless you have Celiac Disease, of course, in which case the whole grain wheat is equivalent to eating arsenic. Don't do it.)

However, a healthy diet can be gluten free. Vegetables are gluten free. Potatoes, meats, eggs and fruit are gluten free. You can eat a varied diet, a rainbow of nutrients, without touching a grain of gluten. A gluten free diet that involves a variety of nutrients, from a plethora of sources, is perfectly healthy.

However, like most diets, its easy to follow an unhealthy version. And too many people look for the easy way out. Eating gluten free convenience items, which have been altered to be gluten free, is no different than eating regular convenience foods all the time. Except that most gluten free foods aren't enriched with synthetic vitamins to make them look a little healthier.

In other words, turning a dish gluten free doesn't "healthy it up". Leaving an ingredient out of a meal does not improve it's health content in and of itself. But there are a myriad of healthy, whole food menus that don't include gluten (Or dairy, or corn. At least, in their natural state). Since grains are a relatively recent addition to the human diet, real food can naturally be gluten free. And tasty too.

I know my diet is far from ideal. My goal is simply healthIER. Not genuinely healthy. In this society, it would be pretty difficult to reach that lofty ambition.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Surviving, with no regrets.

I think we're going to make it.

After 6 days of fever (the first 3 spent entirely in bed) for one, 2 days of very high fever for another, and Mommy trying to lose count of her own fever daze; I think we're on the mend. Mr. Violets is still managing to pick up the household chores, and going to work, too. (3 cheers!)

I also have no regrets about not getting the H1N1 vaccine.

Sure, I felt awful. And watching my kids suffer only increased this feeling of guilt. What if I could have stopped it? Good heavens, if I can suffer instead I will. (Especially as my baby girl just laid there with a fever of 104 that wouldn't budge, sipping at water and occasionally asking if I thought she'd be better in time to do her timeline at school. What could I say? "Not today, kiddo." Checked with the dr. No breathing difficulty, I wasn't really concerned about anything other than the heat that radiated from her tiny body. And the occasional tremors that started whenever she'd start to cool off, her body's way of increasing heat to bring her core temperature up to it's desired temp. 104. I've learned from her sister that 107 is now considered the "not compatible with survival" red flag. But most people stick with 104 since it makes you feel rotten enough to look scary and as far as germs are concerned there's not much difference between a 101 fever and a 106 one. Both will kill off invaders.)

What's wrong with me? Has the fever cooked my brains? (Maybe, I was having some pretty interesting dreams about Percy Jackson...But only because the final book finally came in at the library, just in time for flu season.) A simple shot, a pinprick, a magic bullet could have prevented the past week's suffering.

No, seriously. We had it. We're on the mend. We missed a week of school, for which I feel bad. I know that the school desperately needs the money it loses each day a student stays home, whether it's due to illness, funerals, vacations, lice, spinning to fast on the playground, or a bee sting. I know the that each day is important to academic success. I know that the routine of going to school daily is vital for the kids to learn, and respect, and accept.

I also know that the flu happens. It's mother nature. It's life. It's a long lived cycle. Illnesses, epidemics, occur repeatedly throughout history. In fighting the flu, I felt like we were fighting a known enemy. Maybe the pathogen was more difficult to recognize. Maybe our powers of prediction were tested in this particular case. But in the end, it was us versus a virus. It felt like a fair fight.

Vaccines carry a lot of risks. Maybe it's just because I personally experienced a potentially life threatening reaction of partial paralysis (considered to be only a theoretical risk) but I'm wary of using medical science to try and outsmart nature. I feel like when we accept a vaccine, we're still playing a part in a massive double blind study.

They are predicting that the risk of serious adverse reactions are less than 1 per 100,000. That means that if everyone in the US were to stick their arms out for a vaccine, 30,000 would theoretically be damaged. Sacrificed for the good of the rest of the population.

Out of over 300 million people, 30 thousand really doesn't sound like so many. However, if you are the one in 100,000 your opinion will probably change significantly. The CDC admits that the vaccine was rushed. The multi-dose vials do contain thimerosol (an additive that's been linked to all sorts of nasty side effects.) For those who the vaccine takes effectiveness in (It's not 100% effective) it can take 10 days for immunity to take hold. Kids require 2 vaccines, spread 2 weeks apart. And vaccine clinics are just starting.

Quite frankly, this is early in flu season. Even if we'd jumped on the bandwagon, odds are that we'd have been hit anyways.

I'm not saying that vaccines are bad. They are one of many important tools we can use to protect those who are particularly susceptible. Infants, people with immune disorders, the elderly. (Although, the elderly seem to be pretty resilient against the current threat) I am saying that I felt much more at ease fighting off an infection using my own defenses than I'd feel watching my children rally against a reaction to an unknown agent. Is it a preservative allergy? A reaction to the vaccine itself? A different virus? Will there be permanent damage? And of course the haunting questions yet to come...Did I cause, or even contribute to, this (insert medical condition here) by pinning down my baby to inject her with something, just because everybody else was doing it?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

It's NOT just in your head...

For years doctors have claimed that the vast majority of gut complaints are the direct result of emotional stability. Stress. Anxiety. Control issues.

Elaine Gottschal watched a diet prescribed by Dr. Haas heal her daughter. She went on to write a book, now published as "Breaking the Viscious Cycle," which embraced the theory that gut bacteria were intrinsically linked to whole health. Especially gastrointestinal health.

Elaine went on to explain that the bad bugs crave essence causing the human host to crave sugar. (Try and explain this to the typical MD, and he'll try very hard not to laugh directly at you.) She also explained how obesity can be caused by starvation...the bad bugs "stealing" all those yummy carbs and sugars.

After only 60 years or so, medical science has begun to wake up and agree. Those carb cravings may not be just in our heads (and tastebuds). Neither are they a product of our genes. Nope, studies have proven that people who eat chocolate have different intestinal bacteria than people who do not eat chocolate, leading to a difference in various metabolic byproducts in the blood and urine of test subjects.

Studies have also proven that intestinal flora changes after a change in weight.

Scientists feel this is exciting because if we can find ways to manipulate the bacteria, we can nudge it in the right direction for people trying to meet specific goals.

I wonder what far reaching research could lead to? They're already experimenting with certain parasites to treat Crohns disease, acknowledging that probiotics are vital for intestinal health, and begrudgingly admitting that natural vitamins might serve humans better than synthetic ones. What can gut bacteria teach us about allergies and autoimmune disorders?

What else is "all in our head", but really tied to the gut?