Does food really affect our health, and behavior? I hear this question often and I have to remind myself that personal knowledge related to the toxic effects and healing effects of food choices is unique to each of us. Most people are willing to believe that food directly affects overall health. There are tons of research articles, diet plans, books, and specialists explaining how bad food habits can be dangerous to our bodies and life expectancy. Emerging research explains how certain types of foods affect our mood and behaviors. While we may disagree with which health food plan is best for an individual’s needs, we cannot continue to ignore psychological and physiological diseases plaguing us, our kids, and our nation.
Counselors, psychiatrists, and occupational, speech, & physical therapists are inundated with referrals for those of us struggling with behavioral, mental health, and physical needs. Medications are often prescribed with a varying degree of success while the underlying cause of disease is often ignored. When kids are hyper and disruptive or unfocused, it must be caused from AD/HD. If you experience anxiety, you must be anxious or obsessive. An adult with stomach distress and GI related illnesses must have IBS. A kid with stomach distress must have reflux. The defiant kids must have ODD or an attachment disorder. Can you keep-up with this “alphabet soup?”
Sadly, these diagnoses are all too well known to families today. Teachers and others working with kids assume these labels are necessary or helpful to parents. Parents want a diagnosis to help control the child’s related symptoms which often destroy the family unit. Doctors and professionals want to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to help patients succeed. So, why are so many kids and adults suffering, failing, and not thriving?
Now, consider when a child misbehaves, gets sick, or displays symptoms of a diagnosed disease/disorder. Was it shortly after the child ate a piece of pizza, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, grilled cheese, a sandwich, cereal, yogurt, cheese, or drank a cup of milk? Are these the only foods your child (or you) will eat? Does your child (or you) crave these foods? What did the adult eat prior to days of irritability, fatigue, brain fog, and digestive distress?
Could food be the culprit? “No way! Right?” Wrong! After ten years of experiences (both personal and professional) and research I have learned that food is most often the reason for unresolved and long-term behavioral and health issues in kids and adults. Integrative or functional medicine studies show the microbiome (gut) affects overall functioning and health. This type of medicine focuses on the cause of illness, versus symptomology reduction. When traditional/Western medicine cannot resolve illness, what are they missing? What else might cause symptoms of illness? Food can heal us, it can also harm us. Why are our foods making us sick? I like to say we are “tox-sick.”
Changes in food production started in the 1960s and continue today. Changes were meant to meet food demands for populations. Mass production and cheaper food prices were and continue to be a necessity for survival. Food preservatives are used to keep our foods shelf-stable while additives and dyes are used to make foods more appealing. Chemically created compounds like sweeteners and MSG are added to many foods by companies or by personal choice. Chemicals sprayed on crops, food storage demands, grocery store friendly packaging, and fast food chain restaurants created new health-related issues: toxins. Toxins destroy our gut health.
Changes in wheat production yield a crop with far too much gluten protein, which is related to gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. Milk products are consumed at an all-time high. Casein, which is a protein in milk, is linked to serious health and behavioral effects. Gluten and casein intolerances mimic an opioid-type response in the brain. These food proteins can cause behavioral symptoms similar to ADHD, anxiety, and ODD. GMOs are being introduced to our food supply like never before. We also face severe food allergies which may be life threatening. Toxins are all around us. Our bodies have a limit to detoxifying naturally. Children are especially vulnerable to these toxic effects as they have limited child-friendly healthy food choices which would help them detox.
Toxic reactions within the gut are often linked to inflammation and damage within the microbiome. When the gut is out of balance – the body, brain, and behavior are out of balance. Toxic body, toxic behavior. Reflux and IBS may actually be symptoms of an inflamed or toxic gut. Symptoms are just that, symptoms. What is the cause of the disease? That question is something we are not used to having answered. I believe that is why we are so challenged by the fact that food can heal many of our illnesses – far better than medication can reduce the symptoms.
The good news is there are treatments/techniques to identify and remove underlying food culprits while simultaneously healing the gut. Once symptoms improve, is the disorder gone or cured? You can decide that on your own. It will be a lifelong battle to avoid culprits and discover new potential culprits in our food supply. There are new toxins added yearly we must learn about and advocate to remove from our foods and environment. We must start to understand how to use foods to heal us – not to kill us. Learn more about this very important topic. Check out the following books and topics: Forks over Knives, gluten intolerance, casein intolerance, microbiome research, paleo diet research, Eat Fat get Thin, Tox-Sick: From Tox-Sick to not Sick, and follow leading functional medicine specialists like Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Betsy Hendricks’ books and blogs. Learn more about how toxins affect my son’s life in my first book: How Do I Help My Child: A Mother’s Mission.